Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Beginning of a Backlash?

The American Physical Society on November 18, 2007, adopted the following policy:

Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

It is indicative of our times that a learned society, whose founding mission was "to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics", has no qualms with adopting a policy that includes the phrase "The evidence is incontrovertible". Any scientist will tell you that nothing is incontrovertible. A number of people thought that this policy was not acceptable and wrote an open letter to the APS urging the council to revise its policy on climate change, see here.

On the 22 July, 2009, the weekly journal Nature published the following letter from six APS members (one can only see the version in Nature if one subscribes)

Petitioning for a revised statement on climate change
By S. Fred Singer, Hal Lewis, Will Happer, Larry Gould, Roger Cohen & Robert H. Austin
We write in response to your issue discussing “the coming climate crunch”, including the Editorial ‘Time to act‘ (Nature 458, 10771078; 2009). We feel it is alarmist.
We are among more than 50 current and former members of the American Physical Society (APS) who have signed an open letter to the APS Council this month, calling for a reconsideration of its November 2007 policy statement on climate change (see open letter at http://tinyurl.com/lg266u; APS statement at http://tinyurl.com/56zqxr). The letter proposes an alternative statement, which the signatories believe to be a more accurate representation of the current scientific evidence. It requests that an objective scientific process be established, devoid of political or financial agendas, to help prevent subversion of the scientific process and the intolerance towards scientific disagreement that pervades the climate issue.
On 1 May 2009, the APS Council decided to review its current statement via a high-level subcommittee of respected senior scientists. We applaud this decision. It is the first such reappraisal by a major scientific professional society that we are aware of, and we hope it will lead to meaningful change that reflects a more balanced view of climate-change issues

That the society is reviewing the statement is wonderful news.

The Royal Society, an institution that is even more venerable than the APS, is a proponent of climate change which has prompted Rupert Wyndham to write a letter to the society's president, Lord Rees. You can read it here. Unfortunately, I don't think we will see a similar review of the Royal Society's stance.

Monday, 27 July 2009

What's in a Phrase?

You may recall that we started with global warming. Then we had anthropogenic global warming which made it all mankind's fault. This became climate change presumably because the earth had inconveniently stopped showing any warming since 2002. What will it be next? Reading 'Climate and Energy Truths: Our Common Future', a report produced by ecoAmerica, I am led to believe, see the bottom of page 6, that it will be the phrase “deteriorating atmosphere". Look out for it being used in the papers or on television. When you spot it then you will know where it came from.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Data Sharing

One aspect of the Scientific Process is data sharing. Following publication, it is expected that a scientist will share the data so that others may reproduce the work. Reproduction is a crucial step in the process of making a theory acceptable. The Committee on Science Engineering and Public Policy in the United States has the following to say on data sharing:

After publication, scientists expect that data and other research materials will be shared with qualified colleagues upon request. Indeed, a number of federal agencies, journals, and professional societies have established policies requiring the sharing of research materials. Sometimes these materials are too voluminous, unwieldy, or costly to share freely and quickly. But in those fields in which sharing is possible, a scientist who is unwilling to share research materials with qualified colleagues runs the risk of not being trusted or respected. In a profession where so much depends on interpersonal interactions, the professional isolation that can follow a loss of trust can damage a scientist's work.

Consequently, when the Met Office was approached for the raw data which underpins their climate change research it was expected that they would comply. Apart from anything else they are a public body and I, as a taxpayer, am of the opinion that that data is mine. When Steve McIntyre tried to get hold of the information he was told that he couldn't have it. What is curious is that this request was for a copy of the data that had been previously supplied to Peter Webster at Georgia Tech. If it was acceptable to supply him why was it not acceptable to send it to Steve McIntyre? Read the whole story here.

I notice that there is a petition on the Number 10 website that is asking the Prime Minister 'to Force the Climate Research Unit, or other publicly funded organisations to release the source codes used in their computer models', it can be found here.
26/07/2009 08.22

Making a Pig's Ear of it.

Because I have worn glasses since I was five years old I am very familiar with the eye-sight test. One of the aspects of the test, which hasn’t changed over the years, is the section where you wear an empty frame while the optician inserts lenses of different strengths asking questions like "Is this one clearer, or is this one?" I once suggested that I was giving contradictory answers to which the optician agreed. She added that it was her skill and experience that enabled her to identify the correct lens strength from these contradictory responses. Speaking to other opticians since, I have learnt that this is precisely the reason that the correct lens strength cannot be determined by a machine.

Doctors are similar. They listen to your description of your symptoms and then ask searching questions to determine the probable cause of your illness. The difficulty is that different illnesses have this irritating habit of presenting very similar symptoms and it is the Doctor's skill and experience that enables him to determine the underlying cause of your discomfort.

Yesterday, the swine flu hot line was launched. The hot line is manned by people who are not Doctors. They have a series of questions to ask to determine whether you have swine flu. It is an automatic process that cannot possibly replace a Doctor. There is always the possibility that someone with a different illness could be misdiagnosed. It was predicted here and it has already occurred, see here

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Lost in Space

Casting around for a book to read at the weekend I came across a book I must have picked up at a fete but I do not remember buying it. It is called ‘Science, Numbers and I’ and it is written by Isaac Asimov. It is not one of his science fiction books but a collection of, to use Mr. Asimov’s own phrase, ‘speculative essays on the known and the unknown.’
I reached Chapter 5, ‘A Matter of Scale’ where he starts by referring to representations of the Solar system designed to give a feel for the relative distances involved. You know the sort of thing, imagine the sun is a football then the earth will be a pea thirty yards away. Well, he does just that but he starts with the sun as a one foot diameter ball in the middle of Central Park, New York. Then he lists all the planets giving their diameter and distance from the sun so that Earth turns out to be 0.110 inches in diameter and positioned 107 feet away from the sun. All very interesting but I have read all this before. The bit I didn’t know, though, was where the closest star, Proxima Centauri, would be on this scale. Before you read on hazard a guess to how far away this representation of the start will be from our one foot diameter sun. It transpires that it will be 5,500 miles away or, with Central Park as the starting point, in Jerusalem. Isn’t that just amazing?

Free Publlicity

An article in today’s Daily Telegraph catches the eye, ‘Adults forget three things a day, research finds’ it states. Immediately one wonders who sponsored this research in order to get some free publicity. Well, according to the Telegraph it was carried out by National-Lottery.co.uk. Yes, apparently a website, rather than a company, carried out the research thereby handily providing a link as well as the free publicity.
Further down the article there is a list of the top 25 things that we forget including, at number 22, buying a lottery ticket. That was a surprise wasn’t it?
The question is how good can this research be? If we are talking about forgetting could it not be the case that the respondents have forgotten the thing they are most likely to forget?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Tax Man Cometh

I am in the fortunate position of being a landlord. We have just changed the agents that look after the house. As well as signing a contract with the agents they required a lot of extra details. Information like who supplies the gas and electric, which telephone company is used, what is the number of the gas safety certificate was not a surprise. What was a surprise was the requirement that we supply tax reference and national insurance numbers. When we questioned it, we were told that HMRC demands this information from the agents. We can only presume that this is so that they can confirm independently that what I state on my tax return is correct. If they want to go to that trouble they can do the bloomin' tax return for me. Still, it certainly lends weight to this report.

You don't need to worry though because you are not a landlord. Well, perhaps you do according to this.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Monday, 13 July 2009

Quad Erat Demonstrandum

Steve: I see that the Tories don't approve of giving cohabiting couples the same rights as married couples.

Dave: Is that right?

Steve: Yeah, they also want to make divorce harder.

Dave: Well, that's no bad thing.

Steve: You don't think so?

Dave: No, well divorce is painful and expensive, look at Brian.

Steve: He should never have married her in the first place. He was never home, that's why Sarah started to look elsewhere.

Dave: I suppose they should have lived together.

Steve: The amount of time Brian spent on the road you wouldn't have known that they were living together.

There is a short pause while both reflect on Brian's recent history.

Dave: Steve?

Steve: Yes?

Dave: You approve of cohabiting couples getting the same rights as married ones, yeah?

Steve: Yeah.

Dave: Well how do you know when two people are cohabiting, then?

Steve: They live together.

Dave: Pete and Sandy live together but they aren't cohabiting.

Steve: Given the fact that Sandy is a lesbian everybody knows that they aren't cohabiting.

Dave: So the difference between just living together and cohabiting is whether their friends know that they are cohabiting or not.

Steve: I guess so.

Dave: But what about Mark and that Susan, she started off as a flat mate and they ended up getting married. What if they had just moved into the same bedroom in the same flat? When would they have stopped being flat mates and become a couple?

Steve: Well, they started going out last November.

Dave: Should they have got married rights last November, then?

Steve: Well not until they had been going out for a while.

Dave: So, when then.

Steve: You remember at that Karaoke evening at The Bull when Mark announced the fact that they were engaged?

Dave: Yeah.

Steve: Well, people who want to cohabit should go through a similar sort of announcement so that everybody knows what they intend to do.

Dave: You mean announce your intention in front of a group of peers, friends and relatives.

Steve: Yeah.

Dave: But the authorities don't know that you have done that. They will need to record it somewhere so that everybody can tell from which date the rights begin.

Steve: Well, there could be a person who you went to and told and the rights would start from the date that you told this official person.

Dave: So it would make sense to invite your mates and family along to this telling the official so that it became a sort of celebration of your getting together?

Steve: Yes!

Dave: So, let's put that all together. If cohabiting couples want to get the same rights as married couples then they need to invite a few friends, peers and relatives to a special place where they stand up and tell an official person that they intend to spend the rest of their life as a cohabiting couple.

Steve: That's right! It's a good idea isn't it?

Dave: Steve, you plonker, you have just re-invented marriage!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Tennis and Sex

With Andy Murray's quarter final match against Juan Carlos Ferrero due to be played later today it seems an appropriate time to respond to a question posed by Oranjepan in the comments to a blog I wrote exactly two months ago.
The question that was asked was 'Is it right that Men and women play for equal prize money when men play five sets and women three sets?' The reason that I didn't respond at the time was that although I could argue for and against I hadn't got an answer. This has been bothering me for some time but I believe I have come to a conclusion and so I am now prepared to tackle this thorny issue.
My initial response to this question has always been that is clearly inequitable. The men play more sets and, therefore, should get more prize money. One might be swayed be the argument that since the gentlemen's matches are longer on average, then they should get rewarded proportionally more.
However, a moment's reflection shows that this analysis is too simplistic. Consider going to watch a film, the ticket price is not calculated per minute. To go and see Blood: The Last Vampire costs exactly the same at our local cinema as it does to watch Public Enemies despite the fact that the latter lasts for two hours and twenty minutes which is fifty-one minutes longer than the former.
In addition, one only has to consider how people would react to the suggestion that the winner of the gentlemen's singles is a greater champion that the winner of the ladies' singles because he has played more games. Nobody would find that acceptable. They would argue that they are both the winners of their respective competitions and that it is churlish to say that one is greater that the other. One must conclude that if neither is greater than the other then they should both receive the same prize money. I am now convinced that the current state of affairs is as it should be. There is still one un-answered question, though; Given that they are rewarded with the same prize money, is there any reason why women should not play five sets?

Anyone for Tennis?

Just in case you didn't know I thought that you would be interested in how much the tennis players at Wimbledon are paid. As you can see from the following table it all depends on which round in the tournament they are eliminated.

Winner £850,000
Runner-up £425,000
Semi-Finalist Loser £212,500
Quarter-Finalist Loser £106,250
Fourth Round Loser £53,250
Third Round Loser £29,250
Second Round Loser £17,750
First Round Loser £10,750

So it would seem that Mr Murray is guaranteed at least £106,250.

Make that £212,500.

Blowing in the Wind

Last Wednesday 24th June, Lord Hunt, the energy minister, announced in a press release that 'an extra 25GW of offshore wind energy could be accommodated around the UKs shores.' It goes on to day that 'the findings, a result of the Government's Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) will enable the Crown Estate to proceed with the third round of leasing the UKs waters for offshore wind farms.' In other words the Government is encouraging private enterprise to invest in erecting what is widely quoted as 7,000 wind turbines in the sea around Great Britain.
I am not going to get into a debate about climate change here. What I want to consider is how a Government Minister can talk absolute twaddle and nobody bothers to question what has been said. Between today and the 1st January 2020 there are 3,836 days. If we are going to erect 7,000 wind turbines in that time then we need to erect 1.82 turbines on average every day, including Sundays, in order to get there. If we spend a year sorting out the leases this average goes up to over 2 per day. This is clearly impossible. What astounds me is that if I can perform this elementary calculation why hasn't anybody else? Or have I missed something?