Friday 18 December 2009

A bit of a problem.

This blog uses Haloscan commenting, which is, as far as I'm concerned, the best commenting system on the market. It doesn't support all the irritating crap that makes online bulletin boards so utterly tedious and conversations on them impossible to follow, such as putting a user's favourite quote and a big graphic they've come up with under every single comment. It doesn't force people to create accounts and log in. It simply allows people to comment, and arranges the comments in the form of a conversation. Simple and perfect, and it just works.

Or it did, anyway. Turns out Haloscan has been bought by something called JS-Kit. And, rather than support the new user base they've acquired with anything remotely resembling customer service, JS-Kit are trying to extort us into switching to their software:

Once presented with the upgrade message, Haloscan users will have 2 weeks to make a decision. You will have the following two options.
  1. Upgrade to Echo for $9.95/year – all your comment data will be transitioned over automatically

  2. Export your Haloscan comment data and turn off their service

Users need to respond within the two week period to ensure uninterrupted service.

Translation: "You've got two weeks to pay us or we'll destroy all the comments on your blog." That's two weeks over Christnas, I might add, when some people have one or two other things to be doing than trying to sort out their blog's commenting system.

And what's the new software like? Well, it insists on posting comments in reverse chronological order, because "we have found that this is the best way to present real-time data." As the commenter RT responds, "and I have found that newer comments at the bottom is the best way to carry on a conversation." I've tried posting a comment on JS-Kit's site, and I had to type the whole thing out twice because their crappy software deleted everything I'd typed when I logged in. Ah, yes, logging in: I had to do that, annoyingly. Yet, even after I'd logged in, my comment still got posted under the name "Guest". I can see why JS-Kit are resorting to extortion to try and get people to use Echo: it's a shit bit of software. Every upgrade is a downgrade.

Anyway, comments will be switched off on this blog shortly, and won't be back till I've sorted this mess out. Sorry about that. Blame the morons at JS-Kit.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Rebellion and conformity.

So, let me see if I've got this straight.

You're annoyed about "manufactured" pop music. You're sick of Simon Cowell. You don't want the Christmas Number One, yet again, to be the debut single of the X-Factor's winner. You want to make a stand against the domination of our popular culture by cynical corporate interests.

So you put your weight behind a campaign to get everyone to buy Sony record B instead of Sony record A. Yeah, stick it to the man.

I'm half-convinced that the whole campaign was Cowell's idea, in which case he'll be due a big bonus from his bosses at Sony. If it wasn't, maybe he can persuade them it was.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Denialism and scepticism.

The question being asked here by Ben Goldacre and lots of his commenters is: why do AGW sceptics believe what they do? Well, I'm an AGW sceptic, so I can at least tell them why in my own case.

First, the non-reasons. Am I in the pocket of Big Oil? I wish. I hear they pay well.

Is it because I'm against the massive societal changes "necessary" to fight AGW? Well, no, because I don't think they're necessary. It is well established by lots of evidence (most notably the brilliant experiment done on Europe from 1945 to 1990, where they tried one political system on half the continent and its antithesis on the other) that Socialism screws the environment and that wealthy people in wealthy societies tend to spend their spare cash on the luxury good of natural-environment-preservation, while poor people are too busy trying to survive to be bothered with saving the trees. My position is that, if AGW were a threat, then the solution would be more wealth-generation, probably via Capitalism. Since I'm all for wealth-generation, I'm not sceptical of AGW in order to avoid its political solution.

Is it because I want to burn lots of oil for some reason? Again, no. I hate driving and I think we should cut down on fossil-fuel consumption because it puts all sorts of nasty crap in the atmosphere which is bad for our lungs and bad for trees. I also support the development of alternative fuel sources on the simple grounds of being pro-progress. I want my solar hydrogen fusion jetpack, like they promised us when we were kids.

However, as a computer programmer, I agree with Feynman's philosophical position that you shouldn't use computer models as a source of new information and I also take the practical position that even the world's best software is buggy. I've not seen any evidence that climatologists' software is orders of magnitude less buggy than, say, Excel. Two weeks ago, I saw evidence that it's buggy as hell.

I object to the fact that the models used do not contain known climate-influencing factors — specifically, existing models cannot contain information about new discoveries. For instance, no model used before 2006 could have contained anything about this discovery — and that includes being developed by a climatologist who has seen the science and refuted it. Of course, it is entirely possible to make accurate predictions based on purely numerical models, but I don't believe that this is one of those cases, for reasons that I won't go into here & now because it'd take hours.

I object to the constant use of the word "denialist", designed as it is to imply a parallel with AIDS denialists and Holocaust denialists. We never refer to Einstein as a "quantum mechanics denialist", even though he didn't accept the theory and the theory has been proven right to as great an extent as science ever is. You're not going to persuade me of your case by insulting me, but you are going to make me wonder why you're conducting a propaganda campaign against anyone who expresses any doubts whatsoever about your views.

The leaked emails were a shock to me — not because of the sniping and back-stabbing, but because I had never realised previously that FOI requests were even necessary to get at the data. This is scientific method 101 here: release your data. Goldacre does good business going through the problems with pharmaceutical studies by analysing their raw data. But at least he can get at it to analyse it in the first place. Regardless of the shenanigans to avoid acceding to the FOI requests, the very fact that they were needed in the first place is disturbing. And the insane quote from Phil Jones, "Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it" — what the hell? Again, that's the scientific method. As Goldacre has pointed out repeatedly, scientists like it when their results get pulled to pieces, because that's what leads to stronger and stronger science. But not climatologists, apparently.

I object to the way that the science has been inseparably attached to authoritarian politics. Herman Van Rompuy said the other day that "2009 is also the first year of global governance," giving Copenhagen as an example of this. That's an unelected president of an unelected body asserting that he is going to exercise more power over me via policies that I will never be allowed to vote on. And I'm told that the only reason to object to this is because I hate the planet and want all our grandchildren to die. As far as I can see, the climatologists who say that AGW is happening and is a threat are backing the same political solutions and are keenly joining in the political fight. Well, if they want to conflate the science with the politics, they lose the right to complain when people criticise them from one point of view and not the other. They brought that on themselves. And, when they make it clear that they have political as well as scientific motives, I am entitled to question which one would be ascendant if they were to pull in different directions. It's not as if it's unusual for scientists to corrupt their science in the cause of politics.

The concensus thing. My objection to the constant use of the word "concensus" is not that the concensus itself is meaningless; obviously, it's relevant. My objection is the way that the concensus's existence is routinely presented as a scientific argument in its own right. It amounts to "You shouldn't be sceptical because none of us are, and that proves it." Yeah, go science.

I object to the apparent unfalsifiability of the argument. Every perceivedly unusual weather event is presented as evidence of AGW. As someone mentioned in the Bad Science comments, this may be more due to activists than scientists, but where are the climatologists attacking and disowning such claims just as they attack us sceptics? Conspicuously silent.

And yes, I object to the models' failure to predict the recent total lack of warming. AGW's proponents point out the difference between predicting a system's behaviour in micro and in macro, and the point is well taken. But the trouble is that there's no long history of correct predictions here. What the AGW crowd are telling us is not "Ignore our failure to predict the recent climate because we've predicted it successfully so often in the past" but rather "Ignore our failure to predict the recent climate because we will predict it successfully in the future." Hmm.

And I object to what looks suspiciously like Catastrophism, which used to be regarded as inherently unscientific by its very nature.

I am well aware that there are sceptics who are ignorant and motivated by such ridiculous things as a love of cars. But I'm not one of them, and, in my experience, most of us regard those nutters somewhat askance when they turn up.

Now, please, stop slandering me.


By the way, if anyone from Big Oil is reading this, whilst I did write it for free, I would like you to inform your overlords that I am more than happy to write much the same thing repeatedly in return for untraceable cash, barrels of oil, hot compliant women, etc. If I'm going to get accused of working for you anyway, may as well get the up side to go with it.

Thursday 3 December 2009

On insufficient cynicism.

As some of you may know, my motto is "The only problem with being cynical is being right."

Well, in light of recent developments, I'd like to say that I wrote this three-and-a-half years ago:

As you almost certainly know, lots of scientists these days — especially climatologists — draw conclusions about the real world from computer models. I have therefore compiled this handy list. It's a list of the questions you need to ask any scientist who has used a computer model to reach a conclusion — and I'm not just picking on the climate-change crowd here; they may be the most prominent in the news, but there are lots of other guilty parties out there in all sorts of scientific fields. If a scientist doesn't give confident and reasonable answers to these questions, take their conclusions with a handful of salt.

I set out some of the basic problems of programming and debugging as part of a team, in terms designed to make it clear to laymen that computer models may not always be all that reliable. But I admit that I always assumed that the models used by scientists were basically quite well built yet prone to the same inherent problems as every other bit of programming. It simply never occurred to me that prominent climatologists might be unable to replicate their own models' results or would be building models based on data that they had lost. I was just writing about the long-known problem of the blurring of lines between using computer models to examine and test data and using them to generate information. It didn't occur to me that our lords & masters might be considering destroying the global economy on the say-so of a bunch of "scientists" who'd lost sight of the scientific method.

Had I been more cynical, I'd've been more right. That'll learn me.