I resolved to not bother talking about Vox Day for awhile but circumstances compel me. The synergies of nonsense bind extreme nationalism, Trumpism, misogyny, creationism and antivaxxerism. It is always remarkable to see what apparently scientific studies the Alt-Right will quote as if gospel and which they will turn their selective scepticism too.
What is all this about? It is the old and thoroughly debunked canard that vaccines cause autism. The idea is rooted in two coincidences: an increase in the numbers of people diagnosed with autism (primarily due to better clinical descriptions of autism spectrum and increased awareness among doctors and the public) and the timing of when autisim symptoms are often identified at an age close to when early childhood vaccinations occur. Campaigners against vaccinations have been looking for a more substantial way of linking the two and one generic culprit has been ‘toxins’ in vaccines – i.e. various additives used in the manufacture of vaccines. For a long time the supposed guilty party was mercury, particularly in the form of thiomersal – a preservative used in some vaccines. However, studies linking the two were famously debunked and many vaccines didn’t use thiomersal or other mercury compounds anyway.
Of later the antivaxxers have been pointing their fingers at a different metal: aluminium – which is just like the metal aluminum but more British. ‘Aluminium adjuvants’ are an additive to vaccine that use aluminium. Adjuvants are any substances added to vaccines whose role is to provoke an immune response (see here for a better explanation https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/adjuvants.html ). Tiny amounts of aluminium are added intentionally because the body’s immune system will react to the aluminium and it is that principle (which is central to the whole idea of vaccines) that has vaccination critics concerned.
Back to the study quoted. Vox Day is quoting from The Daily Mail:
BUT….the Mail article is little more than a cut and paste from here:
Which is an article by a “Chris Exley” who mainly writes alarming articles about the terrible things aluminium might do to you. Exley is quoting a study from Keele University which is available here:
And that study was conducted by three people including…Professor Chris Exley. Who, conincidentally enough is on the editorial board of the journal the study is published in:
It is a long chain and yet oddly this is a rare case where the populist half-baked version of the study is alomost directly from the scientist involved.
Now I don’t know much about Professor Exley’s field, so I can’t really comment on the validity of the methods used. The study involved detecting aluminium in a very small number of samples of brain tissue from dead people who at some point in their lives had been disagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. There’s not much in the way of comparisons in the paper and I get the (perhaps mistaken) impression that the method is relatively new. The paper correctly concedes that “A limitation of our study is the small number of cases that were available to study and the limited availability of tissue.”
But take a critical look at the next step in the reasoning. Exley hedges what he says but Vox follows the dog whistle:
“So, the obvious question this raises is: how did so much aluminum get into the brain tissue in the first place? And the obvious answer is: from being injected with vaccines containing aluminum.” (Vox Day)
Of course a moments thought reveals that cannot be the answer. Most people do not have a diagnosed Austism Spectrum Disorder but most people are vaccinated. For Exley’s hypothesis to be correct there would need to be some additional factor, which Exley does describe in his media article:
“Perhaps there is something within the genetic make-up of specific individuals which predisposes them to accumulate and retain aluminium in their brain, as is similarly suggested for individuals with genetically passed-on Alzheimer’s disease.”
Well perhaps there is but Exley’s study doesn’t show that. More to the point, if this IS true then vaccines and aluminium adjuvants are irrelevant – we are encounter far more aluminium in our diets than we do from the tiny amounts we might get from vaccinations. Exley has zero reason to point at vaccines, indeed his speculation would imply that vaccines CANNOT be the main reason for larger amounts of aluminium in his samples because neccesarily bigger sources are more likely.
Exley appears to be trying to join two different healthscare bandwagons together: general concerns about aluminium in stuff (see his other posts) and antivaxxerism.
Is the study itself flawed? As I said, I don’t know but the connection the paper makes to vaccines has zero substance and no evidence from the study itself. That in itself should have raised red flags with reviewers.
In the past, I’d have gone to Science Blogs for some extra background on something like this but that venerable home of blogs has been wound down.
Luckily ‘Orac’ of Respectful Insolence has set up their own blog here https://respectfulinsolence.com/ and has a deep dive into Exley’s paper here:
Yup, it is as dodgy as somebody dodging things in a dodgy dodge. Orac points out the dubious funding source:
“The second time, I noted that he’s one of a group of scientists funded by the Child Medical Safety Research Institute (CMSRI), which is a group funded by Claire and Al Dwoskin, who are as rabidly antivaccine as anyone I’ve seen, including even Mike Adams. Among that group of antivaccine “scientists” funded by CMSRI? Anthony Mawson, Christopher Shaw, Lucija Tomljenovic, and Yehuda Shoenfeld, antivaccine crank “scientists” all. And guess what? This study was funded by CMSRI, too. Fair’s fair. If antivaxers can go wild when a study is funded by a pharmaceutical company and reject it out of hand, I can point out that a study funded by an antivaccine “foundation” is deserving of more scrutiny and skepticism.”
And it just gets worse from there. No controls, some tiny sample jiggery-pokery with the numbers and so on. Best read directly.
There was an excellent question on Twitter that caught my attention:
I think firstly this is not quite a science question. If you need reliable answers to questions about fictional things then mathematics is the place to turn…
But first a diversion into biology. The space that forms your alimentary canal isn’t really you. It is really a great big hole that goes through you. The stuff that goes in there gets mashed and melted and broken down but it is only as that stuff crosses over the membranes that separate you from your innards that the stuff becomes part of you. The stuff in your gut is no more you than the stuff on your skin or in your hair. The stuff in your stomach (etc.) is not you. Therefore, the stuff in Bruce Banner’s tummy (or the Hulk’s) isn’t Bruce Banner. Hold that thought.
Topology is a lovely branch of mathematics. It is a way of looking at spaces without getting too hung up about shape. For example we can stop thinking about how Bruce Banner looks different to The Hulk for a moment and instead consider them both more simply.
Bannerhulk-space is the space occupied by Bruce Banner, The Hulk or intermediary states between the two. When Bruce is Bruce, Bannerhulk-space is small. When the Hulk is the Hulk, Bannerhulk-space is at its largest. Make sense? OK, now flip that. What about Not-Bannerhulk-space? That is all the space in the universe that isn’t Bannerhulk space.
Now when Bruce is Bruce, Not-Bannerhulk space is at its largest. When the Hulk is the The Hulk, Not-Bannerhulk space is at its SMALLEST. Aha! Now what about The Hulk’s guts? That’s part of NOT-Bannerhulk space! That doesn’t prove anything but it does point to the fact that we should assume (as a starting point) that The Hulk’s guts are actually SMALLER than Bruce Banners.
Hmmm. Can I show this? I can! Topology again. A person is nearly, topologically, a torus i.e. a doughnut shape. People aren’t quite a torus because of our nose holes but we can ignore those (no, your genitals/urinary tract don’t count as holes topologically – sorry).
We can model the Bruce Banner-Hulk transition as a torus with changing radii. There are two to consider – the radius of the ring overall and the radius of the tube that forms the torus. Now if The Hulk was simply a scaled up version of Bruce Banner then there wouldn’t be an issue – and also the special effects in The Avengers would be much simpler (paint Mark Ruffalo green and have him stand closer to the camera). Instead The Hulk gets bulkier as well as bigger – the equivalent of both radii increasing but the radii of the tube increasing disproportionately.
Let’s see what happens:
Now maybe you are thinking at this point that all of the earlier part of this essay was really just a rationalisation for the time I spent making that GIF…in which case…yeah, maybe.
Back to biology. When Bruce Banner turns into The Hulk, I think the mathematics shows that his alimentary canal will actual constrict. This will force the contents of Bruce Banner’s digestive system out through his orifices – possibly violently so. Now, I note this doesn’t happen in the comic books or movies but maybe it occurs off screen. Just saying.
It is only a tiny step from pointless science to pseudoscience and I’m thinking…it’s a rainy Sunday and my head hurts…
After my previous post on this topic, it occurred to me that I should check the profile of some other websites. I’d already identified that Vox Day’s blog was disproportionately Goat-Wolf-Rabbit. What about Monster Hunter Nation?
A clear Tiger-Goat-Cow blog. Cats do quite well at MHI in terms of raw numbers but not when compared against their general frequency.
Moving away from the right, how about File770?
Mike is running a Cat-Tiger-Goat blog it seems. Now note that the search method includes comments, so it may be the readers that have a thing about cats (this has been independently confirmed).
What do all three blogs have in common? GOATS.
[ETA – Rocket Stack Rank www.rocketstackrank.com is interesting because the animals mentioned would be more determined by their incidence in short fiction. Overall low frequencies and RSR has no presence on the otter or goose dimensions. Wolf-Rabbit-Cat blog – “Cat” strongly assisted by reviews of the works of Cat Rambo 🙂
Goat has a presence but is just shy of the top 3.
Yesterday, I was speculating about how the far-right may have a fear of rabbits. I’ve no means of ascertaining that but I did wonder if rabbits got mentioned more than you would expect.
Disproportionate Lagomorphic Referencing in Ideologically Extreme Propaganda
By C.Felapton, M.Robot 2017
It has been postulated that the alt-right talks about rabbits a lot. Our research unit examined this hypothesis empirically using highly advanced data-mining techniques.
Using a sample of common animal words, the frequency of use of those words was established and then compared with word frequency in an established corpus of English words. It was established that at least one member of the alt-right talks about rabbits disproportionately.
A weblog site produced by a notable “alt-right” writer was identified by a process of his being the obvious one to have a look at (a blogger who use the pseudonym of “Vox Day”). A set of 14 common animal nouns was identified: cat, chicken, cow, dog, elephant, goat, goose, mouse, otter, rabbit, sheep, tiger, wolf.
For comparison purposes, a corpus of English words was identified to establish standard frequencies for each word. The selected corpus was the BYU-BNC.
The British National Corpus (BNC) was originally created by Oxford University press in the 1980s – early 1990s, and it contains 100 million words of text texts from a wide range of genres (e.g. spoken, fiction, magazines, newspapers, and academic). https://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/
Using Google’s site specific search function, the target website was searched using each animal word in turn as the search term. An example search query being “mouse site::http://voxday.blogspot.com”
The number of “hits” per search term was recorded.
The most common animal name used from the sample was “dog”. However, given the very high frequency of “dog” in English, this result is unremarkable. The ratio of the blog frequency versus the corpus frequency was calculated. The mean ratio for the sample was 0.728 (to 3 s.f.) [blog freq/BNC freq].
The most disproportionately under mentioned animal was “mouse”. The most disproportionately over mentioned animal was “goat”. While the frequencies of both “rabbit” and “wolf” were quite different in both the blog and the corpus, both words were over mentioned in a similar ratio (1.20 for rabbit and 1.21 for wolf).
Full results are shown in Appendix A.
It was agreed by the research team that this had been a pointless exercise that provided no valuable insights and which was methodologically flawed due to its arbitrary choice of words, blog and corpus. Meat Robot complained about having a cold a lot and suggested that a day spent re-watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story would be a better plan. “You’re not the boss of me.” said Camestros but had to concede that it was impossible to exist as incorporeal being.
A cat refused to comment on the result and no other animals were consulted.
Appendix A: Full results
The table shows the full results in ascending order of ratio.
|Animal||Blog Freq||BNC Freq||Ratio|
I previously pointed to an article on people manipulating Amazon rankings for their books, today there is a bigger brouhaha on whether somebody has manipulated the New York Time bestseller list: http://www.pajiba.com/book_reviews/did-this-book-buy-its-way-onto-the-new-york-times-bestseller-list.php The method used (if true) isn’t new and political books have been prone to this approach before i.e. buy lots of the book from the right bookshops and head up the rankings.
One thing new to me from those articles was this site: http://fakespot.com/about It claims to be a site that will analyse reviews on sites like Amazon and Yelp and then rate the reviews in terms of how “fake” they seem to be. The mechanism looks at reviewers and review content and looks for relations with other reviews, and also rates reviewers who only ever give positive reviews lower. Now, I don’t know if their methods are sound or reliable, so take the rest of this with a pinch of salt for the time being.
Time to plug some things into their machine but what! Steve J No-Relation Wright has very bravely volunteered to start reading Vox Day’s epic fantasy book because it was available for $0 ( https://stevejwright.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/a-throne-of-bones-by-vox-day-preamble-on-managing-expectations/ ) and so why not see what Fakespot has to say about “Throne of Bones” http://fakespot.com/product/a-throne-of-bones-arts-of-dark-and-light
Ouch…but to some extent, we already know that the comment section of Vox’s blog is full of willing volunteers ready to do sycophanting stuff and/or trolling/griefing at Vox’s request. Arguably those are genuine reviews, just that they are hard to distinguish between click-farm fakery. Think of it as a kind of Turing Test, which his right-wing minions repeatedly fail by acting like…well, minions.
How reliable is this? There’s no easy way to tell. As a side-by-side experiment I put in Castalia’s attempt at spoiler campaign versus the mainstream SF book they were trying to spoil:
Ironically, the reviews that Vox complains about, probably improve the Fakespot rating of the reviews – i.e. many negative reviews from people will make the rating of the quality of the reviews better. I also don’t see a way in general of Fakespot distinguishing between fake NEGATIVE reviews -i.e. showing that the poor ratings of a book aren’t genuine.
[A note of caution: the site doesn’t re-analyse automatically so the analysis you get may be out of date. The initial ratings for those two books were different but changed when I clicked the option to re-analyse]
I also don’t see a way in general of Fakespot distinguishing between fake NEGATIVE reviews -i.e. showing that the poor ratings of a book aren’t genuine. The basic report seems to assume that fake reviews are for the purpose of the seller artificially boosting a book rather than somebody maliciously trying to make a book look bad.
I must confess to a vice: I have a ghoulish fascination for dysfunctional ideas. Sad to say some, like global warming denialism or racism can feel depressingly ubiquitous. Others are a tad more rarefied – like the occasional defenders of geocentrism. Yet the finest, most exotic of the misapplications of intelligence must be mathematical-crackpottery.
To push truly odd mathematical ideas takes real skill and perseverance. First of all it is hard to find the space which encompasses enough people to know enough about the area of maths you are disputing to understand what you are disputing, yet not so much about the topic to see why you are talking nonsense.
One of the longest running blogs cataloguing and debunking examples of bad maths is Mark Chu-Carroll’s Good Maths – Bad Maths blogs: http://www.goodmath.org/blog/
Here is an extract from a 2010 post which amused me: http://www.goodmath.org/blog/2010/11/16/grandiose-crackpottery-proves-pi4/
Someone recently sent me a link to a really terrific crank. This guy really takes the cake. Seriously, no joke, this guy is the most grandiose crank that I’ve ever seen, and I doubt that it’s possible to top him. He claims, among other things, to have:
- Demonstrated that every mathematician since (and including) Euclid was wrong;
- Corrected the problems with relativity;
- Turned relativity into a unification theory by proving that magnetism is part of the relativistic gravitational field;
- Shown that all of gravitational/orbital dynamics is completely, utterly wrong; and, last but not least:
- proved that the one true correct value of pi is exactly 4.
I’m going to focus on the last one – because it’s the simplest illustration of both his own comical insanity, of of the fundamental error underlying all of his rubbish.
Ah, Miles Mathis, the pi equals 4 guy. To be fair, Mathis was trying to be provocative and his claim was more specifically about pi equaling 4 when circular motion was involved. Yet it is still nonsense and as Mark Chu-Carroll says, very grandiose nonsense.
The guy in question really does need to be read to be believed, and I’m willing to entertain the idea that it is a very clever spoof or very complex humour. Take this piece on his various enemies: http://milesmathis.com/david.html
This post will be an ongoing reply to selected critiques of my new book, The Un-unified Field. The first negative review of the book has just been posted at Amazon UK, so I take this as the beginning of my science counter-critiques. I have been looking forward to this moment, as many can imagine. I am already well-known—some might say notorious—for my counter-critiques on my art site. For almost a decade I have been making the current art critics look very bad. Using Whistler as my model, I have responded directly to the various writings of the status quo, taking on all the big names, including Greenberg, Saltz, Schjeldahl, Hughes, Danto, Carey, and Hickey. But until now my science site has been a different sort of beast. I have attacked physics and physicists, not science critics. I have written and published science papers, not polemics. Yes, my science papers contain a bit of polemics, but I could never have included them in a folder titled “counter-criticism.” I have not only been criticizing science, I have been doing science. I have not just analyzed, I have corrected and predicted. Now, however, I able to use my polemical skills, sharpened by a decade of art fights, in the field of physics. If these science critics had bothered to read any of my art or science papers, beyond “a passing glance here and there,” they might not have stuck their necks out. But they have stuck their necks out and will continue to, of course, and this will provide me (and perhaps you) with decades of new fun.
I can’t help feel like I’m reading a mish-mash of both John C Wright and Vox Day but with an extra dose of grandiloquence.
Speaking of Vox Day…
…over at my new favourite encyclopedia…
There are various edits going on at Voxopedia. A lot of it is alt-right PC renaming of things, removing CE from dates and putting AD back in, swapping out “pro-choice” for “abortion legalization”. There seems to be lots of minor edits on topics related to Croatia but…aside from Castalia House related things not much in the way of new pages.
However, one of the more prolific editors “Rectified” has been working on some new content – content that wouldn’t make it into Wikipedia.
Ladies and gentlemen: The Miles Mathis page! http://infogalactic.com/info/Miles_Mathis
I have seen the future of the big fork!
As Philip Sandifer has pointed out, the encylopedia lacks a decent user base. Of the user it has picked up only a small proportion are editing. Because most topics already have entries (from Wikipedia) all the ‘fun’ work has been done. What is left is the drudgery of keeping the thing up to date.
But then what? Well, the Mathis page shows the way. The alt-right hangers on (or perhaps the alt-right internet constituency) is not just frustrated by leftwing gatekeepers but any and all gatekeepers. Wikipedia is hated not just because of some progressive choices when it comes to naming things or deleting topics but because it constrains behaviour. Specifically it constrains the behaviour of privileged brats and that kind of constraint (not just from Wikipedia but in general) is targeted by alt-right angst.
So Voxopedia has notability guidelines but thos guidelines will be used (at some point in the future…) to rank pages. Hence, a Miles Mathis biography page can be a thing. Not only that but there doesn’t seem to be any rules against editing/creating a page on yourself.*
So here is a future for “Infogalactic” if it last – a vanity encyclopedia not just for Vox but for Vox’s followers.
In which this book completely loses its shit and a short digression into cat astrology.
Michaels, Lindzen, Soon are close to being the ‘skeptic’ A-Team. The main character missing from this first ‘science’ section of the book is Roy Spencer – he of the UAH satellite temperatures. Plimer and Carter joined in to give this Australian book an Australian perspective but they too managed to project an air of the free-thinking scientist resolutely questioning the facts. Yes, these first five chapters meandered between disingenuous and misleading but watching the dance was fun.
But we have one chapter left in ‘The science of climate change’ section and it’s about time we got something a tad more entertaining.
Enter John Abbot & Jennifer Marohasy. I can’t say I know a lot about of either of them. The bio at the start of the book indicates that they were/are a senior research fellow and an adjunct research fellow at Central Queensland University. Which is nice.
The chapter starts in much the same way as the other chapters in this section: with a section on science as a discipline. This time a potted history of Copernicus and the heliocentric theory with a few stars at climate science and then a segue to Thomas Khun’s paradigm shift model again. So far the chapter is still on the rails.
“Prior to the establishment of the current Australian Bureau of Meteorology in 1909, Australian meteorologists had a keen knowledge of astronomy and considered solar, lunar and planetary cycles in their weather forecasting.”
Ah the good old days of weather forecasting in 1909! “There remained some interest in this approach, which was termed
“There remained some interest in this approach, which was termed solar terrestrial physics, at the bureau until the early 1950s.”I wonder what began to change in the 1950s that might have affected our capacity to predict
I wonder what began to change in the 1950s that might have affected our capacity to predict weather? Hands up anybody who knows the answer. Ok, ok, you can all put your hands down now.
“Since the 1950s the bureau, and other major climate research institutions around the world, have worked towards a global effort to simulate climate largely independently of extraterrestrial influences.”
It’s computers isn’t it? Computers have tricked us into ignoring the moon!
OK everybody – did you all spot the climate-change-debate-tactic elementary level dodge there? Did you all say ‘confusing climate and weather’? You did? Ten points.
Don’t worry, even though the whole chapter is going to be about weather forecasters that still isn’t the weakest argument in the chapter. It all gets wackier.
“Indeed, the idea that the moon influences the weather through its gravitational effect is generally scoffed at.”
There will be some scoffing but not quite yet. They don’t really clarify what they mean here and because the whole chapter is predicated on confusing weather forecasting with climate modelling, it isn’t clear what influences they mean. Tides? Well sure, tides are important and tidal forces on the Earth are important. Rather like the fact that the sun is important but also clearly not the cause of climate change. The moon is merrily doing its stuff – it’s a business as usual sort of thing.
But what are they trying to get at with this stuff about the moon and weather?
We diverge into a salutary tale of the hapless Professor Chris Turney. Turney was part of an expedition to the Antarctic in the southern hemisphere summer whose ship got stuck in sea ice. Which just goes to prove something and a big deal was made about this on climate change denials blogs in much the same way they make a big deal whenever it snows in the general vicinity of Al Gore.
But this is not just a generic anecdote of ironic weather. Nope. There is a more specific lesson:
“If, before setting out, he had consulted the long-range weather forecasters who operate independently of the established institutions, and without the aid of GCMs but with reference to patterns and phase changes associated with solar and lunar phenomena, he could have been forewarned of the unusually slow melt rate of Antarctic ice last austral summer.”
Oh yes! Forget climate change denial, we are setting sail straight into weather-forecast crankery! Joy!
So what’s the actual thrust of this chapter? Basically the claim is that the Australian Bureau of Metrology isn’t as good at weather forecasting as some heroic rugged individualist forecasters (who we will meet shortly), generally get the difference between weather and climate all confused, then basically assert that it all has to do with changes in government funding in the 1980s and maybe it’s all the moons fault or computers. Maybe its computers on the moon.
So who are these genius forecasters? The chapter cites three:
- Kevin Long “a long-range weather forecaster based in Bendigo, Victoria”
- Joseph D’Aleo based in the US
- Ken Ring based in New ZealandOf these three Joe D’Aleo is the most notable and of sufficient stature that I’m surprised he didn’t get his own chapter in this book.
Of these three Joe D’Aleo is the most notable and of sufficient stature that I’m surprised he didn’t get his own chapter in this book. D’also has been predicting global cooling for some time now but unfortunately the world hasn’t cooperated.
Global cooling is a necessary implication of the its-all-just-some-sort-of-cycle category of climate change lets-pretend-it-isn’t happening. If temperatures rose just as part of some natural cycle then sooner or later they should fall again. With decades of warming the various cycles credited with global warming really should have produced some counter cooling by now. However, even the so called ‘pause’ has not led to significantly cooler temperatures.
Kevin Long is a mechanical engineer who also sells climate predictions to farmers from his website: http://www.thelongview.com.au/ He also expects global cooling sooner or later and both he and thinks sunspots are a big deal.
Ken Ring outdoes both D’Aleo and Long. While the other two merely try to predict weather based on ‘cycles’, Ring predicts earthquakes. In the tectonically frisky country of New Zealand this is a notable skill.
“Some claim Ken Ring is running a weather prediction scam because he uses the moon to inform his rainfall forecasts.”
Mmm, yes, I think some might well say that.
They go on to say:
“We have seen no independent assessment of the skill of Ring’s predictions, but he sells many hundreds of his weather almanacs to Australian farmers each year.”
Well there you go then! It couldn’t possibly be a scam if he makes money out of it!
There is a fun takedown of Ring’s methods here http://www.limestonehills.co.nz/Down%20On%20The%20Farm/Topics/Ringworld.html (from 2007).
And a different one here https://web.archive.org/web/20071012095338/www.astronomy.org.nz/aas/Journal/Nov2004/PseudoWeather.asp
Simply put it is crank nonsense and the earthquake stuff is particularly bad.
Ring also writes odd books about cats. Include a cat astrology/paw-reading book and also this one:
https://www.amazon.com/How-Your-Cat-Chose-You/dp/0864670095/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469530656&sr=1-6 Ken Ring is co-author of Pawmistry, the runaway best-seller that allowed the cat-owner for the first time to learn about their cats’ inner character by examining its paws. Here you will learn: * How you behave in relationships! * What you appear to be to others! * The extent of authority you really command! * Unconscious body language you are using!
But let’s move on. Does solar activity sort of cycle? Sure. Does that explain global warming?
- If it somehow did then where did the warming from CO2 go?
Demonstrating 1 is not trivial because the theories of these ‘maverick’ forecasters are not well documented. In essence, it is an extended game of vague predictions plus variations on near future weather likely to be similar to present/recent past weather. Claiming ‘cycles’ can then become a game of epicycles – mashing patterns together until you get a short term match. The irony that this chapter starts with Copernican system v the Ptolemaic one as a scientific morality tale is huge, as the chapter essentially invites us to accept a Ptolemaic view of climate.
However, it isn’t that had to show that point 1 isn’t plausible. A neat tool, used online by people on multiple sides of these arguments is the Wood for Tree website. Essentially it is an online set of of major climate data sets with a neat graphing tool.
There are two solar activity data sets included:
- The SIDC monthly sunspot number (more sunspots = sun being more feisty)
- The PMOD composite total solar irradiance monthly average
By using the normalise function on the website you can plot either of these on the same graph with a temperature data set. I’m going to use HADCRUT4 because it has been the one discussed in the IPA’s book so far.
Here is HADCRUT4 with PMOD TSI normalised from 1980 (the PMOD data starts around then).
And here is HADCRUT venus sunspots count http://woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut4gl/from:1950/normalise/plot/sidc-ssn/from:1950/normalise
There are stretches of both graphs where some sort of relation between the two is plausible but in either case the longer we go on the more warming independent of any ups and downs of the sun becomes clearer. Does this prove the cyclists wrong? No but here is one more graph.
This time the green data set is atmospheric CO2. Yeah.
Meanwhile Abbott and Marohasy move on to artificial intelligence or rather they move on from crank epicyclists to neural-network epicyclists. They explain:
“ANNs are massive, parallel-distributed, information-processing systems with characteristics resembling the biological neural networks of the human brain. They are a form of artificial intelligence and represent state of the art statistical modelling.”
There are indeed many amazing tools now available that can mine data and identify patterns and then make predictions based on those patterns. In the case of weather forecasting, I can well imagine that in the short term such tools can make improved forecasts in particular regions (although not being a meteorologist, I don’t know but it seems plausible). However, Abbot and Marohasy are back to the same problem: global warming is changing our climate globally. Any model based on finding patterns in the status quo will increasingly drift away from reality.
The point about building up climate models from empirical theories of how global climate works is to enable us to see what happens in situations that are not ‘business as usual’. This includes counterfactual questions such as scenarios based on different levels of CO2 emissions or different levels of industrial pollution. Remember if, as is rapidly becoming apparent, human activity is now becoming a major factor in shaping the climate, ‘predicting’ the climate becomes impossible without somehow predicting global trends in fossil use, industrialisation, atmospheric pollution etc. It is for this reason, among many, that it is better to talk in terms of projections and scenarios rather than prediction or forecast.