Alan McCallum on rural warming

Alan McCallum has weighed with a rural view of the debate on urban heat islands . I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing his short post in its entirety

As promised in a comment to a post by John Quiggin, here is a splatter diagram of all available Oz rural stations. It is a mistake to believe that because there is a pronounced difference between cities and rural areas [urban warming, or UW] that warming trends are not happening at rural climate stations. I can duplicate this exercise for the world, or assign world stations to about a thousand zones and average in each zone etc etc. The result is the same: The RURALS, as measured, and taking all of them into account, are warming!! Next question??

Don’t just look at the diagram though. Visit Alan’s site for a fascinating comments on a wide range of issues. Alan and I disagree on a lot of things (he lists me as his ‘token leftie’), but I think we agree on a lot of basic values and a fair number of specific issues.

Like me, Alan started getting leery of Keith Windschuttle when he mounted his attack on Popper. And I’m pleased to say that reading Lomborg converted Alan’s view of the global warming issue from “sceptic” to “fence-sitter”. He says

I still think that the data is not in, but just because the data is not in it is still possible to take a “guess”. And this “guess”, the mainstream scientific opinion, is probably right to some extent on the simple grounds that it is [almost] impossible for me to imagine either a major conspiracy, or a complete failure of the peer-review system. If either possibility were true Science is in serious difficulties.

This isn’t far from my own view of the issue, though I see the evidence as a bit more solid than Alan does, certainly enough to justify precautionary actions like Kyoto.

Update Aaron Oakley at Bizarre Science has blogged at inordinate length about the fact that I didn’t provide statistical evidence of significance here. He doesn’t appear to have noticed that I am linking to a scatterplot drawn by Alan McCallum, so obviously I don’t have the original data. In any case, I presented a statistical analysis months ago showing that the upward trend in global temperatures is indeed statistically significant, and Oakley commented several times, so he’s well aware that this issue has been resolved.

ABC Bias ?

Here’s one for Uncle at ABCwatch. An ABC news report with the headline ” Polls show Labor support still sliding”. The report starts

Two polls out today say the Labor Party is continuing to lose support.

but the actual news is that

The Morgan poll said if an election was held this month, it would have been too close to call as the two-party preferred count is close.

before going on with a brief summary of a Newspoll, reported in more detail in the Oz under the headline Labor’s faithful desert Crean The key finding

According to a quarterly Newspoll analysis of polling in marginal and safe seats, done exclusively for The Weekend Australian, the Coalition’s support has risen in key marginal electorates from 41 to 44 per cent, while Labor’s is unchanged on 39 per cent.

At the November election, where marginal seats determined the Coalition victory, Labor support was 40 per cent and the Coalition’s 42.8 per cent. Were an election held now, the figures say the Coalition would have a clear victory.

So we have two polls, one showing a dead heat and the other showing a tiny swing to the Coalition on first preferences (the rise of the Greens, whose preferences strongly favour Labor, would probably offset this). Of course, Howard is romping in on the “preferred Prime Minister” poll, but the incumbent nearly always leads on this measure

In my view, the reporting of these polls is indicative of bias, but not of party-political bias. Rather it is the bias of the conventional wisdom (this marvellous phrase, like many others is due, I believe to JK Galbraith). The CW has it that Howard is sitting pretty and so evidence is reported as reinforcing it, even when it is, at best neutral.

False Economies

Ross Gittins is one of the few economic commentators who understands that leisure and a pleasant working life are just as important as production, if not more so. In this piece, which came out when I was moving house, he asks

If micro-economic reform has been as hugely successful as the econocrats keep assuring us – and as the productivity figures confirm – why has the reform process virtually ground to a halt? Why have our politicians been struck down by “reform fatigue”?

and concludes that many of the apparent benefits of microeconomic reform are ‘false economies’. I get a nice mention as a ‘neoclassical iconoclast’.

Back to back to back

While we’re on the subject of world-class cliches, does anyone else find “back to back”, as in “back to back premierships” a trifle bizarre? Applied to people, or to any objects with a back and a front, it implies “facing in opposite directions”. And after putting two wins (or whatever) “back to back” what are you supposed to do with a third?

More odds on Iraq

I’m definitely in a minority of one in thinking that the odds of war with Iraq have declined over the past month. The Slate Saddamometer has the odds rising from 50 per cent, just before the Iraqi declaration (or non-declaration) to 72 per cent after Powell’s declaration that Iraq was in ‘material breach’. And virtually every newspaper commentary has declared that war is on the way.

It’s true, contrary to my expectation, that the Iraqi government seems to have made no serious attempt to account for (or even explain away) the stocks of WMDs that were unaccounted for in 1998. I’m more impressed, though, by the dogs that haven’t barked in the night. Two are particularly notable. First, at any time after the declaration, the US Administration could have brought the process to an end by producing the clear evidence it had claimed (or at least strongly suggested) it had of Iraqi weapons programs. Second, on Thursday the US could have declared that the omissions in the Iraqi declaration were, in themselves, grounds for war.

Now that neither of these has happened, the decision has pretty clearly been deferred until Blix reports on 26 January. According to todays NYT, the US will now begin handing over its evidence to the inspectors, but no-one seems to expect too much from this.

Obviously, if the inspectors discover weapons (or a susipcious factory with locked gates and armed guards) the game is up for Saddam. The same is probably true if interviews with Iraqi scientists produce a really convincing defector, though presumably such a defector could point the way to physical evidence in any case.

But the likelihood that the inspectors won’t find anything and won’t face serious obstruction has risen, not fallen, in the last month. Over a hundred sites have already been inspected, including those that the US and UK governments pointed to as most suspicious. Apart from a couple of low-grade incidents where the person with the keys was out to lunch, there don’t seem to have been any compliance problems. Presidential palaces, supposedly an insuperable sticking point, have been opened up promptly.

Suppose that this continues until 26 January. By then, hundreds of sites will have been investigated, the best US intelligence will have been tested out, and the key Iraqi scientists will have been interviewed. If nothing has turned up, I can’t see how Blix’s report can possibly provide Bush with a casus belli. And by then, it will be too late to go back to the omissions in the declaration.

If I thought that those predicting war had some particular expertise, I’d defer to their wisdom. But on issues of this kind, I’m happy to back my own judgement even against an overwhelming majority. After all, I’d be willing to bet that most of those reproducing war hype today swallowed the hype about Y2K three years ago.

BOM incompetence ?

As I predicted, it didn’t take long for the global warming sceptics to deny the latest evidence that the world is getting hotter.

Irony alert on At least in the case of Australia’s Bureau of Metereology, Bizarre Science charitably prefers to blame incompetence rather than the political bias that is usually imputed to bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Apparently, the BOM’s statistics are wrong because they fail to take account of urban ‘heat islands’, a phenomenon of which anyone even casually familiar with the global warming debate has been aware of for years. Well, they are only meteorologists, after all … Irony alert off

Seriously, the urban heat island problem is a dead horse that shouldn’t be flogged any further. The issue has been investigated extensively, and found to be of very modest significance.

Here’s the IPCC summary

Clearly, the urban heat island effect is a real climate change in urban areas, but is not representative of larger areas. Extensive tests have shown that the urban heat island effects are no more than about 0.05°C up to 1990 in the global temperature records used in this chapter to depict climate change.

And obviously the BOM doesn’t think heat islands are a big problem or they would be adjusting their measurements and historical statistics to take account of them.

Update The irony alert didn’t work (sigh!) BS takes violent exception, accuses me of Lysenkoism, then sets the record straight (!) by saying ‘The BOM is not incompetent. But it is being selective about which data it uses to justify its “warmest year on record” claim.’ If I were with the BOM, I can’t say I’d be any more pleased by this imputation than by the suggestion that they had simply stuffed up.

Decline of the American Enterprise

I had a dispute with William Zinsmeister a while back over his use of clearly erroneous statistics on European productivity. I must admit I assumed his American Enterprise magazine was a fly-by-night operation ripping off the respected, if clearly right-wing, thinktank American Enterprise Institute. This post from Brad DeLong shows that the truth is worse.

Zinsmeister’s outfit is the real American Enterprise Institute, but it has gone downhill a long way in the last few years. As DeLong says “Back in the late 1970s, the American Enterprise Institute ranked close to the Brookings Institution as a thinktank you could trust not to deliberately lie to you. Now it has fallen very deeply into the pit indeed”. Apparently, Zinsmeister used analysis of the political views of teacher’s in women’s studies courses and presented them as representative of the leftwing bias of academics in general.

World class cliche

Professor Bunyip asks “Is there anybody else who winces at the use of “world class” as the all-purpose, inspirational modifier of Australian endeavour?” Me, me, me!

The same post suggests a panel confrontation between Windschuttle and his opponents, with the loser to be ‘driven from the academy’. But I think Windschuttle and the academy parted ways some time ago, so he’s on “a hiding to nothing”.

New blog

I’ve set up a new special purpose blog. I’m writing some entries for a proposed dictionary of modern thought and I’d very much appreciate comments, suggested references and so on from my fellow bloggers and blogreaders. It’s here. I plan to try a few experiments like this and see what happens.

Support for renationalisation

My column in Thursday’s AFR (subscription required) pointed out how the government’s own statements made the case for the renationalisation of Telstra. Among the political elite (that word!) renationalisation remains virtually unthinkable. But at least in the UK, that is not true of the general public. Thanks to Jack Strocchi for alerting me this Guardian survey which reported

The extent to which the pendulum has swung against the privatisation culture is demonstrated by the 76% who say they want to see the railways brought back into the public sector and is nearly matched by the 60% who want to see an end to private prisons.

OK, it’s the Guardian. But it’s backed up by this piece in the Economist, which argues that the reason the Tories are doing so much worse than the US Republicans is because British voters are far more leftwing than Americans. In particular, a substantial majority supports higher taxes.