2020-06-30

The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Wiki: Introduction

Ages ago - 2014 - I wrote some notes on what I could recall about The dim and distant history of climate blogging, and I can also find some 2005 notes about various fora. But now it is time to look at the early history of the Global Warming page on Wiki, and related matters. There's a page Wikipedia:List of Wikipedians in order of arrival/2003 which I added myself to a long time ago, with the comment "(By invitation :-). First edit on Global warming as 192.171.137.16)" which I expect is or was a BAS IP (it looks like it belongs to JISC). I recall debating about what user name to have. I realised that it was going to become obvious who I was, so I decided to start as obviously-me.

Note: this was written sort-of on request, so it isn't quite pointless navel gazing.

In 2010 I was asked about this and wrote "As it says on that last page: I was invited, I think by Sheldon Rampton, and think it was to sort out [[global cooling]], which is a subject I've had a long interest in, dating from usenet days: http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/ In those days, things were free-n-easy, and there were lots of terrible climate pages in bad need of updating: not just because of bias, though there was some of that, but just because many pages hadn't had more than a cursory glance from anyone competent."

In fact the very first version of GC dates from August 2003, and was extracted from the now dearly-departed Global Warming Skepticism article, and is vaguely sane; though you'll notice the extracted and inserted text doesn't quite match.

But back to the mainstream of GW. My very first edit was uninspiring. The state of the page at that point was poor, and it wasn't clear what to do about it, so I just quibbled The factor which correlates most closely with observed temperature increases and decreases in the earth's atmosphere is solar activity with but correlation-is-not-causation, when I should just have ripped it out; but Damon and Laut came out later. This is characteristic of the early days. A little later in the day I did better, demoting the text and wrapping it in weasel words. Not long later I made my first unexciting edit as me and then created my userpage. A few days later I created Instrumental temperature record with mostly new text and information. Over at Urban heat Island I was again just reacting to what was there, quibbling the silly SEPP view with This argument conveniently ignores the fact that the marine temperature record is essentially in agreement with the land-based one. Touching up the Ozone Hole article was less controversial, but again we see how poor the state was, and the "informality" shall we say of my additions. I put up the first meaningful version of the satellite Temperature Record page, based on the discussions I was familiar with from sci.env. Over at Attribution of recent climate change I edited to Remove anti-IPCC bias (sigh). Add fuller text of IPCC role. You get the idea I hope: lots of things were wrong, I was feeling my way.

This is all going rather slowly. I'm going to call this "Introduction" as an excuse to break off here.

2020-06-28

Neoclassical tipping points of no return

IMG_20200627_142039 Via Twatter on Patreon and now semi-digested via ATTP, Steve Keen is complaining about "The Appallingly Bad Neoclassical Economics of Climate Change". Although he isn't really - the word "neoclassical" is just thrown in there as a kind of dog-whistle; what's he's really objecting to is current IAM damage functions, which is fuck all to do with neoclassicality.

I've talked about DICE damage functions before, and really all the same problems apply: yes there are problems with them, but you need to stop whinging about them and propose something better.

SK's conclusion - that these methods are Drastically underestimating damages from Global Warming - is I think largely unfounded based on his analysis, even if you grant most of his case; because almost all of his argument is attacking the existing damage functions, without replacing them, so he is in no position to estimate damages himself. SK notes that Natural scientists' estimates [of the damages from climate change] were 20 to 30 times higher than mainstream economists, which is fair enough, but doesn't resolve anything: those who know about GDP think the damage is low, those who know about the physics think it high. Another nice quote is it was hardly surprising, given that the economists know little about the intricate web of natural ecosystems, whereas natural scientists know equally little about the incredible adaptability of human societies.

SK tells me that Nordhaus assumes that 87% of GDP is unaffected by GW, and I'll assume that's true: Nordhaus justified the assumption that 87% of GDP will be unaffected by climate change on the basis that: for the bulk of the economy—manufacturing, mining, utilities, finance, trade, and most service industries—it is difficult to find major direct impacts of the projected climate changes over the next 50 to 75 years. (Nordhaus 1991, p. 932). SK is clearly not happy with N's analysis but provides nothing to dispute it; and it seems not implausible to me, and likely that the not-affected share will rise over time.

Other than disliking IAM's damage functions, and - I rather suspect, given his apparently gratuitous attacks on "neoclassical" economics - cost-benefit analysis at all, it is hard to know what SK's positive programme is. My guess is that he'd like to dispose of the CBA, and simply use something like a 2 oC temperature limit instead. This amounts to throwing out not just neoclassical, but all, economics and replacing it with a finger-in-the-air temperature target, albeit one that is widely diffused. I think that's a bad idea.

Keen: who he?


Who was that masked man, you'll be wondering. There's a wiki page. Guess what? He's a brexiteer (boo, hiss). He endorsed Corbyn, tee hee. Possibly more relevant to the issues here is his Debunking Economics.

Refs


* Cost and the Agony of Choice by Steven Horwitz at EconLib
Crop Yields Under Global Warming - 2018
Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death? - 2017
* According to the profession’s most popular theoretical models, optimal tax rates on capital
should be equal to zero in the long run–including from the viewpoint of those individuals or
dynasties who own no capital at all - Piketty and Saez (whose personal opinion differs) - h/t Timmy.
The Opportunity Costs of J. Alfred Prufock - Econlib.

2020-06-27

Yet moah climate suing

tempt There's not much going on right now, so time for some low-grade climate suing news. Of which the last was in 2018... can that really be so? No, there's this from 2019 too. But is about time for yet moah. Why is it time for moah? Perhaps the 2020 election season approaches, a time when public official spaff taxpayers money against the wall on lawyers in an effort to look good for re-elections?

First, it's good to see that our old friend ClimateLiabilityNews is back, with a new name, ClimateDocket sounding eerily like ClimateDepot. It isn't clear whether we're supposed to know they are the same thing, or indeed if they are exactly the same thing, but climateliabilitynews.org1 redirects to climatedocket.com, which is something of a hint, and CD's "about" page says "The editorial content of CLN is not subject to approval or influence by CCL or its donors" which looks like a careless failure to update (h/t The Dark Side). Also, their page source includes some "yoast-schema-graph" gumpf which still include "name":"Climate Liability News" Aaanyway, enough of that, who cares who they are really.

There's DC Files Latest Climate Suit Vs. Big Oil and also Minnesota Sues Fossil Fuel Industry for Climate Fraud. They look to be run-of-the-mill kind of stuff. For the second, the Dork Side helpfully supplies me with a link to the suit which contains The economic devastation and public-health impacts from climate change were caused, in large part, by a campaign of deception that Defendants orchestrated and executed with disturbing success. I suppose it has to; they have to at least assert cause. I don't think it is true (in two senses: there is no current economic devastation from GW in Minnesota3; and GW isn't in large part caused by Evil Fossil Fuel Company propaganda; this is the familiar "if only it weren't for you EFFCs everything would be spiffy" nonsense.

The next point is around timelines, who-knew-what-when, and I think that will fail, as I've said before and more (caution: link may2 contain picture of monkey genitals). Para 214 asserts a scientific consensus as early as 1982, which is drivel.

Browsing along, I'm struck by how badly researched the complaint is. Important facts about EFFC profits are cited to the Graun, not to some authoritative source. That CO2 causes GW is just stated and not cited, although there's all that nice stuff in Alsup they could cite - perhaps they don't want to draw attention to Alsup and hope that if they pretend it doesn't exist, no-one will notice? It starts to resemble that carbon tax proposal that appeared to have been written by children. Well, if you think it's doomed and only done to bolster your re-election, there's no need to put much work into it.

Para 55 and on is the by-now-familiar drivel that we knew all of this in the 50s. Including the stuff about Teller. Why are they doing this? There's no chance of it standing up. There are pages and pages of this, all boiler-plated from stuff they've been fed I suspect. Para 84 is the wearying Despite their superior understanding of climate change science, which is a lie: the EFFCs knew nothing that the govt didn't know, that wasn't in the scientific public domain. Para 87 is Instead, they engaged in a campaign of deception. As I said beforethe API and its friends, most obviously Exxon under Lee Raymond, said things sufficiently misleading to constitute misinformation and probably lies. But just how evil was this campaign of deception? Para 89 tells us: This deliberate campaign of deception and half-truths is described, in part, by internal strategy documents: A 1988 ExxonMobil internal document states that Exxon... Urge a balanced scientific approach. Fuck me that's Evil (but yes of course, I've been deceptive in what I've elided).

Para 93 is Defendants’ misleading statements were part of a conspiracy to defraud consumers and the general public, including consumers and the public in Minnesota, about climate change and the role of fossil-fuel products in climate change. This I think goes to the heart of their problem (though I'm guessing of course, because I don't know the details of their law or how it is likely to be interpreted; para 185 appears to say that the law doesn't require any actual damage). Simply being misleading is unlikely to be criminal or attract large damages. They need to show intent to defraud. This is going to be tricky, because they'll need to show a net loss, which so far they haven't even attempted.

Para 125 is ...Defendants secretly paid scientists to produce research that supported their campaign of deception. However, the only one they can find is Willie Soon. They try to pad it our with William Happer but are obliged to admit that he has never published a peer-reviewed article on the topic. Unable to find a second scientist to justify their plural, they fall back on These examples are part of a pattern and hope no-one will notice.

Ah, at last: para 139 at last attempts to demonstrate harm (they won't, as they should, try to balance harm against good; but I'm not expecting miracles from them). There were nearly 60 heat-related deaths between 2000 and 2017 (they don't mention that the largest year was 2001). Was this larger than the previous 20 years? They don't say. What does the long-term trend look like? They attempt no attribution. Have winter cold deaths changed? They don't thik to comment. They note that High temperatures can also lead to crop damage but don't note that yields are increasing; to understand that properly you'd have to extract the various causes. In contrast to the vagueness of temperature-related damages, they can find lots of $ for flooding damage, but make only the sketchiest attempt to attribute the floods to GW.

Para 249 asks that hizzoner Order ExxonMobil and Koch to disgorge all profits made as a result of their unlawful conduct. Which sounds odd: those companies no longer have those profits, of course. They've been paid out in dividends and so on. It also isn't clear whether Minnesota wants all of the profits for itself, or only its share, measured by some as yet to be determined sharing theory.

So, meh, another suit. Will it do any good, other than to the pockets of lawyers? I'm doubtful.

Notes


1. Weirdly, that link shows you a nearly-there page. But just select the URL in your URL-bar and press return, and you'll get redirected to CD.

2. Oh, all right, does.

3. They assert Minnesota has already experienced billions of dollars of economic harm due to climate change since Defendants began their deceptive campaign; if they provide a source, I'll let you know. Looks like no... para 54 begins Without Defendants’ exacerbation of global warming caused by their conduct as alleged herein, the current physical and environmental changes caused by global warming would have been far less than those observed to date... but still no source. Ah, read on; it comes in para 139.

4. Para 94 says Defendants’ websites contain misleading statements about climate science but doesn't quote any of the misleading statements, and contains no URLs, references no archived copies. It all just hopeless, amateurish, pathetic.

2020-06-23

Climate change: Govt policies 'can do more harm than good'

IMG_20200616_093957 Or so says Aunty. Although not quite in those words of course. Aunty is a creature of govt and would not be so ungrateful. Instead, the actual headline is Climate change: Planting new forests 'can do more harm than good'. However if you read past that you get financial incentives to plant trees can backfire and reduce biodiversity with little impact on carbon emissions... The study looked at the example of Chile, where a decree subsidising tree planting ran from 1974 to 2012, and was widely seen as a globally influential afforestation policy... lax enforcement and budgetary limitations meant that some landowners simply replaced native forests with more profitable new tree plantations... "If policies to incentivise tree plantations are poorly designed or poorly enforced, there is a high risk of not only wasting public money but also releasing more carbon and losing biodiversity," said co-author Prof Eric Lambin, from Stanford University. "That's the exact opposite of what these policies are aiming for." So, usual stuff: govt screws up by getting the incentives wrong. Cue howls of outrage: it isn't the policy that's wrong, it is the evil people taking advantage of the incentives. But there will always be such people; the best you can do is not to be idiot enough to encourage them. The actual paper is Impacts of Chilean forest subsidies on forest cover, carbon and biodiversity by Robert Heilmayr, Cristian Echeverría and Eric F. Lambin.

That was part one. Part two is: A second study set out to examine how much carbon a newly planted forest would be able to absorb from the atmosphere... the researchers looked at northern China, which has seen intensive tree planting by the government because of climate change but also in an effort to reduce dust from the Gobi desert. Looking at 11,000 soil samples taken from afforested plots, the scientists found that in carbon poor soils, adding new trees did increase the density of organic carbon. But where soils were already rich in carbon, adding new trees decreased this density. The authors say that previous assumptions about how much organic carbon can be fixed by planting new trees is likely an overestimate. But the relevant figure, if you're interested in CO2 levels and attempting to assert "more harm than good", is new CO2 fixed versus any soil C lost, which of course Aunty doesn't give. Neither does the abstract of the paper. It does however say By extrapolating the sampling data to the entire region, we estimate that afforestation increased SOC stocks in northern China by only 234.9 ± 9.6 TgC over the last three decades, so the net effect even just in the soil was still positive. I don't know why they say "only"; perhaps they were expecting a larger number; if so, they don't give it. The paper is Divergent responses of soil organic carbon to afforestation by Songbai Hong et al..

My picture shows a bee orchid, in my front garden. Indeed, it is the only bee orchid in my front garden, and as far as I know it is the first year it has grown there. They are not wildly uncommon in long grass around here.

Refs


National Economic Planning: What Is Left? - CH Quote-of-the-day
* UK government development bank to end fossil fuel financing - Graun

2020-06-15

Legislation: BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, GEORGIA

curse SCOTUS sez:
Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.
One can consider the morality of the underlying matter - and I will at the end - but unlike gay cakes this was a matter of interpretation of (Federal) legislation, not the Constitution. And the text to be interpreted was "sex". The judgement spends quite some time noting that the discrimination, if it were illegal, would be illegal if "sex" was only a (possibly minor) part of the reason for the firing. But (as Alito points out) nobody disagreed with that, so it looks like squid ink. The crucial part, is does discriminating on the basis of being transgender, or homosexual (which includes being lesbian) intrinsically include discrimination on sex? The majority say it does; Alito (and Thomas and Kavanaugh) say it doesn't; I agree with the latter three.

The reason is tolerably obvious: I could be (as it happens I'm not, you'll be pleased to know) rampantly prejudiced about people attracted to their own sex; but equally prejudiced against queers of both sex. And therefore, my prejudice would have nothing to do with the sex of the person concerned; but be entirely a matter of their sexual orientation. The court even manages to consider pretty well exactly this case (p 18). The base of their argument (shorn of the irrelevant black / catholic element) appears to be discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second, but this is still iffy2: I think they're trying to say that, yes, you may not be biased against either sex, but nonetheless since homosexuality can't exist without distinctions-of-sex, it is therefore protected. This is certainly an interpretation, but I don't think it is the obvious one; or the one that the writers intended.

The majority correctly note that the mere fact that those who wrote this legislation did not intend this result (or so I would guess and everyone in this case seems to assume) is no bar to reaching it: Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result... But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extra textual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit. The legislation is what is written (and how it is interpreted) and if there is a clear and unambiguous reading, then there is no issue. But of course there is not a clear and unambiguous reading - well, IMO there is one obvious reading and it's not the one they make -, and their attempt to assert one is mendacious.

In the case of ambiguous reading - which I think is the best they could assert in their cause in this instance, though since they're fully aware of what I'm about to say next they take care not to admit that - then it is natural to consider the intent of those who wrote the legislation, as Hobbes says. And, clearly they don't want to do that, because in 1964 discrimination against gays was all fine and dandy, as far as the law and those who wrote it was concerned1.

Yet another wrinkle on this - that I learn from Alito's dissent - is that there is legislation in Congress (or just failed? Not sure of the details) to specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Which would be pointless if the existing legislation was clearly in their favour. Perhaps ironically, it may now be dropped because the law now is in their favour.

Another aside: the pension-fund contribution precedent they cite on p 13 was I think correctly decided on the law, but nonetheless stupid, for the obvious reasons. Happily it only arises in defined-benefit schemes which are on the way out anyway, and that departure will be speeded by such rulings.

As something of an aside, both majority and dissent stress that words and phrases in legislation are to be interpreted "with their ordinary meaning" rather than absolutely literally. This sounds terribly public-friendly, and may even be a good idea, but I have a sense that it opens up avenues of interpretation better left closed. But then again, per Hobbes, law always requires interpretation. Alito stresses that the interpretation should be based on the common meaning at the time the law was written. This too seems correct; if the word "fish" were to shift it's common-place meaning to include - let us say - whales, the interpretation of "fish" in legislation pre-dating that change should continue to exclude whales.

The Court’s opinion is like a pirate ship


Aka, Alito's dissent. Can you tell that he's not happy? He really isn't happy. Since I'm in agreement with his view of the legislation, I don't need to say much more here.

Who decides?


Kavanaugh's dissent, as far as I can tell, introduces nothing new.

Morality


Having decisively dealt with the legislative aspect, there's the moral aspect to consider. Morality is not the same as law, and will not reach identical conclusions on all occasions (as a gentle hint that this is so, we have different words for the two concepts). Here we should acknowledge a conflict, and toss into the gutter the opinions if not the persons of anyone too stupid to accept that there is a conflict. The conflict is between the liberties of the employer, and the "rights" of the employee. This is similar to the conflict of the rights of seller and would-be purchaser in the gay cakes case. The liberty of the employer is infringed when he is obliged to employ someone he doesn't want to. The "rights" of the employee are somewhat more diffuse; they have no "right" to any particular jobs, they do have a "right" to decent treatment. Incidentally, this conflict only exists between private entities; the state, of course, is obliged to treat all equally under the law (I mean, in theory; in practice, gays were banned in the military for ages, as were women, and so on and so forth). My own personal preference would be to not discriminate pointlessly; if we follow the law-is-custom maxim, then in the West custom has definitely shifted against discrimination. However, rather than solving the problem this way it would have been better to amend Title VII itself.

Update: it woz the govt wot dun it


David Henderson points out that one of the discriminators was Clayton County. A govt entity. Which, as I said above, isn't allowed to discriminate. I'm astonished that the court didn't consider that matter. For them, there's no need to even consider title VII.

Economics


The economic view, of course, is that a company that fires people for their sexual orientation is, we must presume, losing access to valuable talent, and therefore likely to suffer a loss (we'll gloss over the possibility of having prejudiced customers for this purpose). Therefore, the pressures of the Free Market act to suppress discrimination. Isn't that nice to know?

Update


Textualism and Purposivism in Today's Supreme Court Decision on Discrimination Against Gays, Lesbians, and Transsexuals: The decision in Bostock v. Clayton County is well-justified from the standpoint of textualism (a theory associated with conservatives), but less clearly so from the standpoint of purposivism (often associated with liberals) - Ilya Somin, Volokh. Various commentaries now exist, but most simply repeat the judgement or the bits of it they like, or celebrate it; there's precious little analysis or thought. This is the best I've seen; it puts forward the interesting example of interracial prejudice: would this example be analogous to the homosexual one? It's a nice try but no cigar I think.

Notes


1. Hobbes explicitly says that if you're in doubt, you can go off and look at the speeches of the legislators, if you want to know what their intent was. And the custom of the SCOTUS to treat the Federalist Papers seriously means they know this. And yet the majority manage to say (in an effort to explain away subsequent Congress not adding explicit language) Maybe some in the later legislatures understood the impact Title VII’s broad language already promised for cases like ours and didn’t think a revision needed, without making any attempt to reference any of the debate. Alito bemoans why in these cases are congressional intent and the legislative history of Title VII totally ignored? Any assessment of congressional intent or legislative history seriously undermines the Court’s interpretation.

2. And apparently contradicted by evidence, as the dissent says: At oral argument, the attorney representing the employees, a prominent professor of constitutional law, was asked if there would be discrimination because of sex if an employer with a blanket policy against hiring gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals implemented that policy without knowing the biological sex of any job applicants. Her candid answer was that this would “not” be sex discrimination.10 And she was right.

Refs


* The Outrage Epidemic: How the New Information Landscape Fuels Tribalism by Russ Roberts
* SCOTUSblog: Ryan Anderson: Symposium: The simplistic logic of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s account of sex discrimination.
* US supreme court: Don't be fooled. The US supreme court hasn't suddenly become leftwing by Nathan Robinson. In which the Graun considers all possible motivations for the judges, other than that they were doing their best to interpret the law.
* An example of the courts simply interpreting the law, despite their clearly expressed wishes to do otherwise (Exxon).
OPINION: The ‘villain’ in gay workers rights case has plenty to say.
* The Supreme Court is a follower, not a leader by Scott Sumner at Econlib.




2020-06-11

On statues

In Ukraine: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation I said Lenin statues toppled in protest [in Ukraine] Aunty continues, which has ominous echoes of the disaster area that we made of Iraq; not that the statue-toppling was the problem itself; indeed the people’s joy is clear. And of course the famous destruction of Saddam's statue is famous, and I approved of it. Alas all did not end as happily as one might have hoped. And yet I don't approve of the toppling of Edward Colston in Bristol.

How can I possibly justify a different response in these different situations? After all, they are in all cases statues that people don't like - what other possible differences could there be?

Weight of opinion


This isn't really my determining factor - I think, I might change my mind later, recall that I'm writing this post to try to understand my underlying principles - but I think weight of opinion matters. In the cases of Iraq and Ukraine (and all over the former Soviet Union, anyone who had had to live under Communism) pretty well everyone hated the regime and wanted the statues down3. So there was none of this "we tried doing it democratically and it didn't work"; in fact they hadn't tried at all, because of cause trying would have been death, earlier; but the formal-democratic route wasn't needed, because the actual-democratic - participatory, not representative - gave a clear mandate.

And yet, recall Socrates and the Athenian Admirals.

Actual grievance


Also known as "standing": do you have an actual concrete injury that needs addressing? In the case of Iraq or Ukraine, yes: these people had lived under an oppressive regime. By contrast, the problems of the poor folk of Bristol are all rather feeble first-world-problem snowflakery: "I felt a bit sad"5. This is closely related to, but not quite the same thing as, my first version, which was length-of-time: the grievances in Iraq and Ukraine were present-day, or at least only-yesterday, and fresh. Those in Bristol were stale, and needed to be dragged to people's attention for anyone to care.

Mob rule?


I've seen and heard - within my own household, forsooth2 - the argument "Why was that statue removed in the way that it was removed? Because for 20 years, protesters and campaigners had used every democratic lever at their disposal, petitions, meetings, protests, trying to get elected politicians to act, and they couldn’t reach a consensus and they couldn’t get anything done" (that example is Lisa Nandy) and although she, being a pol, is too measly-mouthed to complete the thought, the implication is "and so they were justified in taking the law into their own hands".

But no, that's not how it works. There's no rule that says "if you really really want something but you can't get it, then after a while you just take it". And yet that, effectively, if what is being said. Obviously, this only applies to things that Nice People approve of. If you really really want the Sudentenland, that doesn't mean you can have it. Everyone knows that1.

Indeed, if you've tried really hard for ages and failed, perhaps you should stop and think why you've failed. Perhaps it wasn't such a brilliant idea after all. Perhaps the people that disagree with you are right.

Another argument is that the mob rarely stops at a sensible place; indeed, you don't really expect sense from a mob, if you think about it. Consider4 After Colston, figures such as Drake and Peel could be next from the Graun, containing A founder of Guy’s hospital in south London, he made his fortune through owning a large number of shares in the South Sea Company, whose main purpose was to sell slaves to the Spanish colonies. But Wiki tells us By the late 1670s, Guy had begun purchasing seamen's pay-tickets at a large discount, as well as making large loans to landowners. In 1711, these tickets, part of the short-term 'floating' national debt, were converted into shares of the South Sea Company in a debt-for-equity swap. The South Sea Company was a government-debt holding company, and while there was a brief attempt to sell slaves in Spanish America, this was completely unprofitable in Guy's lifetime.[3] Therefore, while he is sometimes erroneously portrayed as having profited from slavery,[4] this is incorrect. In 1720, the year when the South Sea Bubble burst, he sold 54,040 stock for £234,428, making a profit of about £175,000.[5] He then re-invested this money in £179,566 4% government annuities, £8,000 of 5% government annuities, and £1,500 East India Company shares.[6]. Looking at the talk page is also enlightening.

Those who know me will find me a somewhat curious defender of the Rule of Law. But this isn't the post to explore that.

Edgy tighters


Those who feel an actual personal grievance I have some sympathy for, though I think they're largely misguided. As the wise but slightly damp Mr Smith once opined, people are generally prepared to grin and bear up under oppression, achieving a level of happiness; whereas a grievance that might be redressed can lead to great unhappiness. There are many mottoes in those thoughts (which alas I can't find the exact page reference for). The poor man's son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition also bears reading, as do Hobbes's thoughts on Felicity. Consider then professional agitators, aka pols; their task is to stir up the populace, nominally to the said public's gain but often with more direct motives; such people do not want a happy populace.

Refs


Locals prevent removal of Baden-Powell statue from Poole Quay - sort of reverse mob justice. Which, I'm obliged to admit, I kinda approve of.
* African-American lives matter by Scott Sumner
* In defence of liberalism: resisting a new era of intolerance; Our public figures must rediscover the true spirit of liberty - Spectator
* The American Press Is Destroying Itself; A flurry of newsroom revolts has transformed the American press by Matt Taibbi.
Buddhas of Bamyan.

Notes


1. Godwin; I lose. So sue me. OK, we can use Crimea instead if you like.

2. NSFW. And it should be "father" of course.

3. And of course they keep some of them in parks where they can be regarded, but in a safe way; e.g. Hungary's Memento Park, or Russia's Fallen Monument Park.

4. h/t Timmy.

5. That is, their grievance from the statuary. Britain - sez oi from my position of privilege - isn't particularly racist, but there are genuine grievances, like the over-representation of blacks in the stop-n-search figures. But this post isn't intended to be an examination of racism in the UK today. There's also some question as to whether pratting around with statues isn't a distraction from actually fixing real problems.

2020-06-02

Coronavirus days: more endless summer

May has become the sunniest calendar month on record in the UK says the UKMO, and it feels like it. I spend my work days in a chair looking out onto the garden1, watching my cat stretch in the heat, watching the plants grow, watering the plants, and wishing it would rain a little bit.

And in the brief intervals between work, various blogging items emerge. I largely endorse JA's The utterly vacuous, self-destructive, hopelessly incompetent nature of our government is beyond my ability to put into words, and so I haven't been saying much, as it does all seem such a train wreck that it is hard to see how any sane suggestions for improvement could have any effect.

My inlined pic is JA's daily.

Testing


It feels like we are in a fog, unable to see "the enemy", and the obvious answer is ubiquitous testing. Unfortunately, the govt has so thoroughly fucked up the testing regime, it is hard to see where to go. Even the UK Stats Org is now telling the govt they are clueless. The problem, apart from basic sanity, is windbaggery and lies: the govt unwisely promised N tests by some random date, and in order to pretend to hit that target were obliged to twist the results into lies. But now they can't untwist, so no-one knows how many tests are being done. That in a sense is no longer very important, because I don't think anyone takes the govt lies seriously any more, but they still can't untwist, and so we can't tell, from the stats, tests-performed against tests-mailed-out; actual individual tests against number of people tested, if they're tested multiple times; and so on.

This carries over into the stupid 14-day quarantine for international travellers. The obvious alternative is just to test people on arrival.

Incidentally, whilst some of the incompetence and lies are clearly govt (see stupid target, above) I'm rather less convinced that the govt-as-in-the-party-in-office, rather than the civil service and associated machinery, is to blame for everything.

Meester Cummings


No post about Covid would be complete without a mention of Dom. And no post about Dom would be complete without a mention of his role in getting the lockdown imposed as early as it was: Boris Johnson’s most powerful political aide pressed the U.K.’s independent scientific advisers to recommend lockdown measures in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, according to people familiar with the matter... According to two people involved, Cummings played far more than a bystander’s role at a crucial SAGE meeting on March 18, as the panel discussed social distancing options to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak. Weirdly, no-one wants to talk about that.

The other Cummings thought: AFAIK, his little jaunt did no harm of itself; the harm came from Joe Public becoming aware of it, and thus going "sod it! If he won't, I won't", and going outside mixing with fellow plebs and catching horrible diseases and dying. Now obviously the hypocrisy is bad - considered as a stain on his character - and the blog editing is bad - considered as a blow to his techno-competence - but on that reading, the people responsible for the extra deaths are the press, not him. During wartime, the press get censored to prevent bad news leading to despondency; I'm not sure I agree with that even in wartime, and this isn't as bad as wartime, and I would oppose govts attempts to censor this episode had they tried; but there is a case for press self-censorship, if the aim is to avoid people dying. Of course, that might not be your aim. Your aim might be bashing the govt; either for personal satisfaction or for the long-term good: a bashed govt might fall and lead to a better govt. Or perhaps the virtue of free reporting is so great that it is worth a few deaths2. And these are all trade-offs that can be considered. But pretending that the press had no choice to make; that once the info was in their hands they were obliged to publish and thus had no moral choice; it just lying to themselves.

FWIW, though the Graun insists the Tories poll lead has collapsed, their pix show the approval-of-covid numbers have hardly shifted, though BoJos rating has fallen.

Update: Evil Mastermind? JA wondered if I was a fan of the Dim and Dom show, which to my mind is an odd thing to wonder, since I've repeatedly called Bojo a Tosser. As to Cummings, I said As for Cummings, you should fear him; but with luck Boris will enough to sack him a while ago. I've linked approvingly to some of his posts, in particular some discussion of the willingness to fail conventionally - which insight I owe to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which you should definitley read. I found JA's attempted takedown of Dom less than convincing, although to be fair it was more an expression of his opinion than anything intended to convince.

But enough equivocation, what do I actually think of him? As to his role in the current govt, I think there is very little public / hard evidence; he is an advisor, rarely speaks, and if there is visible documentation of what he says, it is thin / unreported / I haven't been diligent enough to find it. I judge the entire-govt performance in Covid to be poor, but don't know whether to blame him for that or credit him with making it better than it otherwise would be (see the lockdown-earlier link). In terms of performance effectiveness, I mainly judge him for his success in winning the Brexit referendum; that didn't have the result I wanted; but looking at his effectiveness (note for simplicity I'm giving him most of the points) I think that indicates that some of his ideas - as expounded on his blog, and relevant to the entire-govts poor performance - are sound, even if I'm somewhat baffled why someone clearly intelligent would choose to head in the direction he has.

Uupdate: lying in politics. JA's riposte is Apart from a few good slogans and the strategy of lying bigly, what has he actually done? which of course deserves the traditional reply. However, this touches on something I wanted to say, so I will: many people blame him (and Leave in general) for lying through their teeth5. I don't. Not because I like lying: I don't. I think people should tell the truth, and strive to do so in my life4. However, in politics lying is widespread if not universal. Why? Are pols especially evil? No: they just live in a system where lying is rewarded and telling the truth isn't. As usual, I blame Joe Public, who fail to punish lying pols. As to the specific case of £350M/week: yes this was probably a lie (TBH I didn't greatly care so never bothered to check the details) but it was widely called out as a lie at the time (indeed, I heard about it far more from people calling it a lie than from people saying it). So anyone who cared had the truth available. In fact this is analogous to information about GW: the truth is there, for anyone how cares to see it. Anyone who is being lied to, and is believing the lies, is culpable, not the liars: they are simply being fed what they want to hear. I doubt many took it seriously: it worked not because it was true or was believed, but because it indicated a direction of travel that resonated.

How are we doing?


Not well, obviously. But not outstandingly badly (please don't interpret that as a defence of the govt). Currently worldometers.info/coronavirus has us at #5 in the world in deaths per population; or ignoring tiddlers, behind Belgium and (to the level of accuracy I suspect this data has) tied with Spain and Italy. Mind you... Spain and Italy... not what comes to mind when you think of paragons of competent govt we'd like to compare ourselves to.

Is science being set up to take the blame?


Asks Ross Anderson at Light Blue Touchpaper. But SAGE comes out pretty badly from his reading of the minutes (the usual bureaucratic problems of committees: not dealing with the whole problem, continual refusal to admit mistakes, and the whole wearily familiar list; see my "I don't just blame the govt", above). I really ought to try a similar reading for myself some time.

Personally


The bumps are still off, but sculling is back, and I'll probably go out tomorrow. The krauts are back in eights, lucky them. Work isn't looking to get us back until September, in general, which makes sense as most of us are productive at home; some of us more so. I'm starting to eye up the Alps, perhaps in August.

Mark Zuckerberg criticised by civil rights leaders over Donald Trump Facebook post


Not strictly Covid, but relates to the freedom-of-expression begun above. The Graun is sad because the Mango Mussolini gets to say bad things on fb. I'm sad too, because having a populace that votes for such a POTUS is distressing3. But I'm also sad because having "civil rights leagders" (the heads of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Color of Change) say “We are disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up” indicates a level of stupidity and failure to think that you'd hope not to see in those nominally leading opposition to TMM. Yes, it is entirely possible for people of good faith to argue that fb's decision was wrong - FWIW, I think it was right - but to argue that it was "incomprehensible" is either stupid, ignorant or windbaggery. And the defense is free speech, of course. We don't want it to be restricted without good reason. Note the absence of contradiction to the Dom stuff above, since that was about self-control, not imposed control.

Update: some good news


UK electricity coal free for first month ever: Coronavirus slump and sunniest spring on record send green energy soaring.

Adam Smith


The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

Refs


* A "Hodgepodge" of State-Based COVID-19 Rules May be Just What the Doctor Ordered by Richard B. McKenzie at Econlib.
Making sense of nonsensical Covid-19 strategy - FT Alphaville. It fails (but it is reading the minutes).
Supercentenarians and the oldest-old are concentrated into regions with no birth certificates and short lifespans and Supercentenarian and remarkable age records exhibit patterns indicative of clerical errors and pension fraud.
* The emergence of modern astronomy – a complex mosaic: Part XXXVII
Doubling times and the curious case of the dog that didn't bark - JEB
* The Two Kinds of Moderate - Paul Graham - December 2019
BUSH DID NORTH DAKOTA - the 33% effect in polls, and lizardmen - SlateStarCodex

Notes


1. When it isn't so hot and sunny that I have to twitch the curtain across. Adaption!

2. How many deaths? I have no idea. If I took seriously the headlines trumpeting the complete collapse of the govts moral authority in imposing lockdown, lots. But in practice I rather doubt that. The sot of people who used this to give themselves license had no discipline anyway.

3. Thought for the day: a key element of democracy - well, of a functioning system of govt - is allowing people to defect. The absence of this is obvious in dictatorships, like Syria or Venezuela. But it is also applies in strong party system states, like the USA or the UK. But no, I don't think the USA is heading for dictatorship.

4. Other than when replying to axe-murderers seeking their victim's location, or answering despotic regimes, or when your Aunt Petunia asks if you like the sweater she knitted you; there's general agreement that lying then is acceptable; but except when it's acceptable to lie, you should tell the truth.

5. Evil DC, that is; not nice JA.

2020-05-23

Bad beekeeping 2020

In the absence of any very exciting news (Cummings good! (no-one wants to talk about that) or Cummings bad! (everyone wants to talk about that)) I thought I'd record the bees. It has been a warm - or at least sunny - spring, and so they dutifully swarmed. This was fortunate, as a friend is starting beekeeping and wanted a swarm.  Walking down to the hives one sunny lunchtime I could clearly hear the hum, and see them dancing in the gap between some trees; an hour later they weren't, and so I deduced they had settled, and wandering o'er the banks of the stream I found them, conveniently at ground level, somewhat less conveniently on various sticks barely above the mud on the riverside.

MVIMG_20200508_160649

The stream isn't the dump this view suggests. However the bees are as irritatingly badly placed to be scooped up as the pic suggests. All the dry sticks need to be broken off and since they snap jerkily, that upsets the girls.

IMG_20200508_160659

We came back with a big cardboard box and after cutting back the sticks mostly and not disturbing the bees too much, I scooped them into the box which is easier to say than to do, and we hoped for the best: there's an awkward time when you can't tell if the queen is inside or outside, and whether the stream of bees is heading towards settled or needing recapture.

MVIMG_20200508_161942

Happily, they had settled, and a little later were taken away to their fine fresh new home (from which they decanted, but not far, and my friend recaptured them with no help from me).

After that my occasional run to Grantchester revealed that the rape fields were fading which is the sign for the spring recolte, and after an extensive period of nettle-chopping and other weeding the hives were fit to be seen to.

The first revealed - again, alas - a birds nest in the eaves. Will they never learn? It had three cute little eggs in it. I felt guilty, but Google Lens tells me these are of the Great Tit and it clutches in 12s, so perhaps these were just failures that didn't take. Anyway, I destroyed the nest and later repaired the mesh. See here for the eggs. See here for the hole in the gauze.

IMG_20200517_163433

Inside... about half the frames were capped and that seemed good enough. On a first go I didn't explore the lower super; you can have too much of a good thing. Also there was a small amount of brood in the middle. How did that get there? Tut. So I thought I'd let the lower super sort itself out, somehow.

That was enough excitement for one day, but happily the next was sunny too so onto hive #2. This initially looked like it had gone solid, but that was illusion, it was mostly fine. And just like the first hive it seemed quite well populated, so I'm slightly puzzled as to which had swarmed. This too I managed to deal with quite efficiently, and put the newly emptied frames under the remaining full super, which I left for later. Spinning it all out the honey extractor was full, and I then recalled that I didn't have any jars left, so taking off any more supers can wait for Thornes' finest to deliver.

General view. Hive #1 straight ahead, hive #2 R, spare super and roof hanging around just in case they feel like swarming into it; and spun frames awaiting replacement in hive #2.

IMG_20200518_183030

Hive #2: formerly top, now spun, super put back on, and the formerly lower, still unharvested, super off to the R on top of the green box awaiting replacement on top. All the comb standing up will have to be removed before replacement.

MVIMG_20200518_184247

Inside hve #2 top super before it came off. You can do this "properly" with bee excluders, but I don't bother with that, and just remove it frame by frame, carefully brushing away bees as I go.

IMG_20200518_173801

As I scraped off the upstart comb from the now-top super it went into the box together with the attendant honey; so afterwards I let them have it back. Side note: when I took off another super a week later, they had completely removed all the honey and the wax too.

MVIMG_20200519_105112

There's a video on Youtube of tapping off the spun honey.

Update


A week or so later I took off the (now) upper super on Coppertop. Here are the frames. And then put on the spare super I had lying around, having painfully but pleasantly (do I mean painstakingly?) having recovered enough frames for it, and re-sat the spacers. And this is afterwards.

101229640_10158223690772350_486488046514995200_n

Lot marks


For my memory:

* '20B - 2020 (duh), from the Blue Bowl.
* '20T - 2020, from the Tub.
* '19H - 2019, from the tub that Miranda used, melted out, hence "Hot".
* '20S - 2020, Second lot (currently in the tub) from the second super on Coppertop.

2020-05-11

Coronavirus days: OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy

EXrjSOLWAAI2Qd4 Or, "I read this stuff so you don't have to" you lucky people. My pic is an example of the govt's almost comic innumeracy.

As you'd expect, there's revisionism in Bojo's foreword: That price could have been higher if not for the extraordinary efforts of our NHS and social care workers and had we not acted quickly to increase the capacity of the NHS... On 3 March we published our plan... OK, so the idea he's trying to push is that it's all Very Grave, but we've done Jolly Well, and it is All as Planned. But that plan contains no reference to lock-down. Or care homes. And whilst praising the NHS etc. always gets lapped up by everyone, he's trying to drag himself along on their coat-tails. Continuing I said we'd take the right decisions at the right time is, in retrospect, clearly wrong, so he is unable to learn even with hindsight1. Testing: the govt is still lying about the number of tests - having nailed its colours to the mast it cannot change now - but even their figures show less than 100k a day for the past week.

Having got that snark out of the way, I'm afraid that the actual plan itself is not mad, indeed their main problem is to try to disguise how bleedin' obvious it all is - do we really need to pay all these expensive people for this? There's still no attempt at any kind of numerical cost-benefit analysis, just an implicit hand-wavy one: fewer people might die if we continued the lock down, but then again the economy would suffer, and anyway are people going to take much more of this? That last is a valid consideration: even if your only concern was to save lives, some relaxation reduces the risk of an explosion.

If you'd rather read someone else's take then the Graun has a pretty straight summary. Update: they also (now) have If we follow Boris Johnson's advice, coronavirus will spread by David Hunter (professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Oxford). Excellent. Someone prepared to make a prediction.

The timelines are vague, as they should be: The next chapter sets out an indicative roadmap, but the precise timetable for these adjustments will depend on ... monitor closely the effect of each adjustment, using the effect on the epidemic to gauge the appropriate next step. Initially, the gap between steps will need to be several weeks, to allow sufficient time for monitoring. However... this response time may reduce.

There is a very tiny nod to regionalism: Restrictions may be adjusted by the devolved administrations at a different pace in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because the level of infection - and therefore the risk - will differ. Similarly in England, the Government may adjust restrictions in some regions before others: a greater risk in Cornwall should not lead to disproportionate restrictions in Newcastle if the risk is lower. But their heart isn't in it, and it isn't included in Step One.

The Beeb's report on all this pulls out "advice for people to wear face coverings on public transport and in some shops" which is sensible of them; this is in the Govt doc but not nearly so obviously - making it too obvious would raise the embarrassing question of why it wasn't suggested much earlier2.

Step One


Anyway, where do we start? For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible... All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Which seems almost sensible to me. The bit that isn't sensible is not considering whether people should travel to work on public transport; I wouldn't go on the Tube at the moment myself. Somewhat later they say everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible, which is all very well but if it isn't possible you're stuffed if you follow their rules; they keep trying with Social distancing guidance on public transport must be followed rigorously; it will be interesting to see how that gets enforced; clearly they haven't quite worked this one out as they say appropriate guidance... will be published this week.

Schools aren't to re-open, but as they note actually schools are open, for some categories of children, and they urge more children who would benefit from attending in person to do so, which appears to be a sensibly disguised way to push up school occupancy without going too high.

Going outside is less restricted - in England; the idiots in Wales are still in panic mode, sadly -, and it looks like the bloody stupid bit where the rozzers nick you for sunbathing is out.

Step N


Step Two won't be before the 1st of June: more school opening, more bizniz, some sporting events. And then the vaguer Step Three won't be before the 4th of July.

Stay Alert


It's a bit shit. isn't it? Pretty well everyone agrees on that. I hate living in a country where every policy has to have some associated fuckwitted slogan. Unfortunately the crit - at least as reported in the Graun - is not "this is all rather wanky" but that the “stay alert” messaging is “too vague” and that “more precision is needed”. Which is about as useless as the govt's slogan. But the Grain needs to attack the govt plan for something, since they're Tories, and it doesn't want to put its ass on the line by suggesting any substantive changes (update: and neither does the opposition). Incidentally, while having Bojo spout off on Sunday while the doc wasn't available until today was a bit shit too. Or was it? How much in the great scheme of things did that actually matter, except to the chatterati?

Notes


1. FWIW, I ran the Cambridge Half Marathon on the 8th of March, and would have been annoyed had it been called off, so I'm not claiming any great foresight for myself.

2. Actually they make excuses for this, and international quarantine, on p22, but I don't find their excuses plausible.

Refs


What can we learn about the COVID fatality rate from Guayas? - JEB
* Americans Didn’t Wait For Their Governors To Tell Them To Stay Home Because Of COVID-19 - 538
Boris Johnson’s new covid-19 campaign falls flat - Economist

2020-05-09

Coronavirus days: regionalism, modelling, hypocrisy, global warming

MVIMG_20200508_160649 Let's start with Neil "Bonking" Ferguson, who said: "I accept I made an error of judgement and took the wrong course of action. I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms. I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing." This is interesting, in the light of claims to be "following the science". It would appear that his scientific advice is that, if you've had the virus you're immune so contact is permissible. As far as I can tell he believes his error was "undermining the message" rather than his scientific judgement. This then recalls... The Climate Change Hypocrisy Of Jet-Setting Academics? No, not that one, but the linked Climate chickenhawks.

But perhaps his scientific judgement was correct. Of course in the fervid atmosphere of the UK that is no proof against charges of hypocrisy, as should have been bleedin' obvious to him. Which leads me on to regionalism. Or, that the current one-size-fits-all policy is, errm, how about "non-optimal from a theoretical point of view". The rates of infection in the country vary wildly by region, with the general pattern being that outside the plague-pits of large cities things are fairly OK. And using hand-waving density arguments, that would likely be true with less lockdown. Unfortunately the centralised response we have appears to be unable to think about this; R4 this morning were desperately worried that even the smallest divergence between England and Wales might be confusing. Perhaps it might confuse their tiny minds but I think people could cope. The USA gets to experience this more directly I think, since the States are responsible for themselves, and this is good. Closer to home, we're going to see changes in Europe as an example - for either good or ill - to us.

One Adam Kucharski sticks up for NBF Twatting There seem to have been some misconceptions about how COVID science is done and how it helps inform decision making. As we clarify here, it's a large collaborative effort... and linking to their doc (arch). Which includes inter alia In early March 2020, the emerging consensus amongst scientists involved in this country-wide consultation was that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating widely in the UK, it was capable of causing substantial hospitalisations and fatalities, and that in the absence of drastic social distancing measures, the healthcare system would rapidly become overwhelmed in the same way that it had been in Northern Italy at the time. Although new studies and data have since emerged, this consensus has not changed. But there are problems there. Firstly the idea that little has changed revises away rather large changes in doubling time, as JA noted. And secondly, if the govt is "following the science" and the science in early March was such, why did we lock down so late? The answer of course is that rather important things did change, most obviously their belated revision of the doubling time.

Incidentally, SM points to the list of meetings which contains lots of interesting but frustrating minutes; it would be good to pore over those some time - but even better for someone else to do it and synthesise their timeline. Having browsed a couple I found myself frustrated because there are raw statements not backed by any references.

Moving now onto models, consider the Imperial model. Obviously at a superficial level, because I know little about it, but I did find We modified an individual-based simulation model developed to support pandemic influenza planning to explore scenarios for COVID-19 in GB. The basic structure of the model remains as previously published. In brief, individuals reside in areas defined by high-resolution population density data. Contacts with other individuals in the population are made within the household, at school, in the workplace and in the wider community. Census data were used to define the age and household distribution size... This model has been a bit crap overall, because as JA has so elegantly demonstrated, they fucked up the calibration by not doing any. Indeed this seems almost a textbook illustration of how useless it is to have an elaborate model capable of simulating fine-grained detail when important controlling parameters aren't know. As a country-aggregated simulation it appears almost comically inappropriate. And yet for what I want them to do - modelling regionally-varying degrees of lockdown / isolation - it could be quite appropriate; but the little buggers aren't doing that.

Global warming


Richard-the-Betts Twit “Like in the Covid pandemic, timing [of climate action] is critical to prevent devastation. If you wait until you already have a serious problem, then it is too late. Unlike with corona, sea-level rise cannot be stopped for many centuries", riffing on Sea levels could rise more than a metre by 2100, experts say. I disagreed, on the grounds that there's no exponential growth of temperature. In a thrilling continuation, RAB hit back with But there is a very long lag in sea level response. If we wait until we've seen (say) a 50cm rise before doing anything, we'll be committing future generations to substantially more, but so far he has no response to Well that's part of the point: the lag really is very long indeed. There is some limit beyond which it is not worth planning: Should we care about the world after 2100?

Bees


Ah, my picture: a swarm from one of my hives. They flew off not very far and collected themselves on the muddy bank of a local brook. We collected them into a large cardboard box and tookthem away; Mac reported that they swarmed again this morning, but he seems to have re-collected them again.

Another view


From Kal.
   

2020-05-07

Coronavirus days: the Imperial model, impartially consider'd

But not by me, I hasten to add.

Quiz: to be taken before you get to the end. Who is this, and why is he relevant?

The story so far: Imperial have some kind of epidemic model that was used to predict, errm, stuff1. After a bit people, predictably (arf!) enough, said "where's your source code" and Imperial said "errm, it's a bit of a mess actually, hang on a mo" and after a fair while and heavy massaging from folk in the private sector that turned an unreadable unmaintainable 15k single-file model bearing a powerful resemblance to S+C's MSU code into something that could be seen in public without too much embarrassment, they put it onto Github2. I even poked around in there for a bit before realising I didn't know how to look at Github, and getting bored.

But! Other people have looked, and are unimpressed. This is no great shock I think. The people I found were "Lockdown Sceptics" who, despite their sensible but derivative motto Stay sane. Protect the economy. Save livelihoods, are probably a bunch of nutters; they also have a dreadfully slow website. They have a post (arch) called Code Review of Ferguson’s Model.

Most of the post is about non-determinism. This is interesting (though probably no great flaw) and I'll get to it in a moment, but first a few other things they pick out. The first is the absence of any kind of tests, which seems a fair point. Writing tests is tedious and often neglected even in the Real World, so it is unsurprising that a bunch of amateurs didn't bother. Another is poor documentation of some parts; and again, meh, so it goes. let's go back to the interesting part, non-determinism.

There are a number of meanings for this that need to be disentangled. In running such a model, you probably want to run a pile of runs with similar but perturbed initial conditions and do some averaging of the results. In this sense the model is intended to be "stochastic", and that's fair enough.  However, with a given random seed, you would rather like the model to be repeatable. It appears to be rather shaky at this. The first problem looks to be parallelism. This comes up in GCMs too, and indeed way back when I said:
There are two sorts of repeatability: you run the model again, and you get *exactly* the same results down to the last bit. This is call bit-reproducibility. Or, you run the model again, and you get *scientifically* the same result (the same climate; probably the same response to forcing within statistical error) but the exact details of the weather differ. Because the climate is chaotic (in the sense that small initial perturbations rapidly amplify) and GCMs reproduce this well, if your model diverges even slightly from bit-reproducibility it will diverge strongly from it, because the details of the individual weather will be totally different. But the climate (statistics of the weather) will be the same.
So you can see Repeatability of GCMs for more. The problem with the parallelism stuff if that the easy way to implement it leads to numbers coming back from other processors in a different order, and so inevitably the exact last few bits of floating point calculations don't quite match. If you put effort in you can avoid that, at the cost of slowing the thing down a little3. Imperial's solution appears to be running the model single-threaded, instead (but because they didn't really care about repeatability, and had no tests to pick up problems, they still had repeatability bugs even in single-threaded mode).

If you look at the report, the non-repeatability looks to produce a pretty big difference. However, I rather suspect this is like GCMs: if you look at output after one month after a trivial perturbation, it will look very different even though the long-term climate is the same. What that report / pic appears to show is sensitivity to when the initial perturbation starts to grow. This might be a problem; but it might not (I think you'd need to see a whole ensemble of runs to see what it is supposed to look like).

So overall I think the criticism in scientific terms isn't exciting. As a lesson-for-our-times I think "when you look behind the curtain of just following the science you'll see some messy stuff" will do. Or even Laws are Like Sausages. Better Not to See Them Being Made.

The East is Red


Interestingly, seen from one bug report, people are shamelessly using the concept of "Red Team" in this context. It's almost as though the concept is sensible and helpful, when used in good faith.

Update


The fight for the soul of the Imperial model continues. Nurture has Critiqued coronavirus simulation gets thumbs up from code-checking efforts which (once you remove the goo and dribble) amounts to pointing out CODECHECK certificate for paper: Report 9: impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand. March 16, 2020 which looks to be part of a commendable effort to re-run codes leading to publication by Stephen J. Eglen; and they have, and get the same answers (in the stochastic sense).

Meanwhile Bryan Lawrence has a somewhat unconvincing defence in On scientific software - a beginning.

Refs


The Imperial College code - ATTP

Notes


1. I'm a big-picture man. Don't bother me with details.

2. I've been re-reading Proust.

3. The Met Office / Hadley Center are not a bunch of amateurs and did put the effort in. Incidentally, one reason for wanting the reproducibility is rare bugs where you model blows up. If you don't have reproducibility, you can'r re-run with extra debug to get to the same point and see the failure more clearly, so you're pretty well stuffed for debugging.





2020-05-06

Predictions are overrated?

IMG_20200506_100300 Sabine Hossenfelder has a blog post (via Not Even Wrong) asserting that Predictions are overrated. Obviously, in PW's words, the naive view that you can evaluate a physical theory simply by the criterion “Does it make predictions?” is wrong; but SH goes too far in dissing predictions.

Happily, after all the physics, which they definitely know more about than me, SH comes on to climate models:
Another example where this misunderstanding matters are climate models. Climate models have correctly predicted many observed trends, from surface temperature increase, to stratospheric cooling, to sea ice melting. That’s an argument commonly used against climate change deniers. But the deniers then go and dig up some papers that made wrong predictions. This, so their claim, demonstrates that really anything is possible and you can’t trust predictions.
This is naive to the point of being wrong. Most importantly, most climate modelling - well, especially the IPCC - has been careful to talk of projections rather than predictions. The outside world hasn't been great at picking up that nuance, but it is there, and needs to be considered if you're attempting some scientific evaluation rather than a political one. That we don't know the value of climate sensitivity is well up front, and clearly century-scale predictions of climate evolution aren't possible without that. Secondly, some of the predictions she mentions - sea ice melting is the most obvious - are ones where the models have done a fairly poor job, other than getting the sign right. And thirdly, there's a variety of models predicting different things, and they can't all be right.

How you should evaluate the credibility of the climate modelling community / scientists / effort, based on past "predictions"? Clearly, picking any one "prediction" at simply verifying that is wrong. You need to look at more of an amalgam, like the IPCC. As to the kinda question "should we trust them now, based on what they said in the past?" you need to look at how the predictions were presented. If you could find multiple frequent cases where people confidently published clear predictions which were subsequently proved wrong, then you would indeed mark them down. Since that isn't actually the case, you don't.

And then there's the point, which SH notes that we have moved on to arguing about the integrity of scientists and the policies of their journals instead about science. If you're talking about denialists, then yes, you're talking about "integrity" and sociology of science, not about actual science. What if you're actually interested in evaluating the science? Then I still think the ability of the models to make predictions matters. In this case it's hard to say quite what we mean by "the science" - all the subcomponents like radiative transfer theory are effectively "unit tested" to borrow from software engineering, but those aren't the bits we're evaluating; in terms of GW, "the science" means that integrating them all together within a GCM (a) works and (b) captures enough of the physical world to say something useful. Without something in the way of prediction, I don't see how that's possible. Where generally you allow "prediction" to include predicting the past; i.e. temperature evolution over the 20th century.

SH proposes instead What, then, is the scientific answer for the climate change deniers? It’s that climate models explain loads of data with few assumptions. Which is nice, but never convincing, unless you believe it anyway. It isn't convincing because it isn't clearly true from the outside: you can't tell that they have "few" assumptions (hence, it is a useless answer for denialists themselves, and not much use when in front of an audience of the general public). Worse, the statement isn't even meaningful; GCMs have lots of "assumptions" in them, measuring "few" or "lots" in any meaningful way would be a difficult task in itself. This is why predictions are good: they don't require looking inside the black box. Perhaps it is just her rhetorical question that's wrong: if she'd asked, What, then, is the scientific answer for the climate change scientists? it would make some sense, but still be hard to evaluate.

Just to be clear, I don't think there's an absolute answer. Trying to evaluate a scientific theory and coming up with an opinion as to whether it is likely true or not isn't a science. There's a question of how much weight you give to predictions versus other factors. But making good predictions is generally so hard, anything that can predict correctly gets a lot of weight.

2020-05-02

Coronavirus days: would most covid-19 victims have died soon, without the virus?

20200502_GDC100-Artboard_1 Asks The Economist. And the answer (as always) is no. Somewhat to my surprise and against my prejudices. But matching other studies I think I recall seeing elsewhere. But this one comes with a rather nice pic, which I share with you.

So each decade-group from 60 on up has about the same contribution to total deaths; proportionately more of the 90+ group die of course, but there are fewer of them to start with. And the x-axis is number of long-term conditions, so I think all you really see there is that 60 year olds have 1-2, and every decade adds a couple of conditions, on average. The y-axis being years lost we see that 90 year olds only lose a year or so, but the 60 year olds much more, and the average is about a decade.

When easing lockdowns, governments should open schools first


Another Economist headline that could perhaps have been answered with no, if it were a question. But it isn't, it's a policy prescription. The suggestion seems to be based on three ideas: that they appear to be less prone to catching and passing on covid-19; that loss of schooling is damaging; and that kids seriously get in the way if you want to work.

Minor disclaimer: I have a daughter in her last year of school. She would have gone on study leave on the 7th of May had this fuss not happened, so school is over for her. The only intervention that could matter is re-instating exams, but I'm fairly sure the govt nailed its colours to the No mast early, so that won't happen; because it would now be unfair to change the system.

I think the kids-don't-get-it-or-spread-it argument is weak, largely from lack of evidence (and slightly less so due to what I feel is implausibility) at this point, so relying on it seems poor. That loss of a term or two's schooling is a disaster is also I think weak; although that may be coming from a nice-middle-class perspective, where if Darling Daughter asks about divisions of particles in the Standard Model, I can at least offer a useful discussion.

I'm rather more sympathetic to the problem of getting people back to work while the kids are under foot. I think I'd solve this regionally: if you look at maps of the disease, some areas - most obviously big cities - are plague pits and much of the rest of the country is mostly free. So, re-open schools in such areas on a trial basis, see how it goes, would be my plan. Possibly do something complicated, if you want to keep the numbers down, like have half the pupils come in on odd/even days.

But I'd definitely re-open garden centers first. And book stores, and cafes; all with some density restriction, if required. And large offices and factories that can meaningfully impose distancing.