Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cop out or tipping point?

Jim Hansen isn't right about everything these days - this paper has rightly had a rough ride (ignoring the delusional nonsense) and I wait with interest to see what transpires. But on the Paris talks, he's pretty much right. He's worth quoting in full (as reported in the Guardian and elsewhere):

It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will continue to be burned.
James Hansen, Columbia University

It is also interesting to see that, just as most scientists have regretfully given up on 2C as a plausible target (maybe we could still just about do it in theory, but we certainly won't without lots of serious and immediate effort), the politicians decide they will aim at 1.5C instead. I predict a lot of Canute analogies and cartoons as the temperature continues to rise steadily.

On the other hand, it could be seen as a positive sign that at least the politicians are talking seriously about the need to cut carbon emissions, even if it is merely talk. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that at least some nations might act in accordance with their words and put their money where their mouths are. If we really did achieve carbon neutrality before the end of the century, I'd regard that as a pretty positive outcome. But it's a long way off from here. Of course a carbon tax/fee/whatever as espoused by just about everyone who's thought about the problem and who does not have a vested interest in it would be the obvious starting point, and what matters from here is the start rather than the endpoint. What does everyone else think?

Friday, December 11, 2015

The benefits of an informed prior

Since Bayesian priors seem to have come up on a couple of blogs recently...

A few weeks ago I got a rather spammy email about a “climate change challenge” from someone I'd not come across before. Looking at his “publication list”, that is perhaps not so surprising (the most recent ACP submission listed there was rejected without review, so cannot be found on their web site). Anyway, it's just a typical kooky site full of claims about how everyone else is wrong apart from the author who cannot get his groundbreaking theories published, move along nothing to see etc...

Shortly afterwards, Doug Keenan announced a “contest” wherein all and sundry were challenged to identify from a large set of random time series which of them had been generated by a trendless random process, and which were generated by one with a known trend. Of course the trivial trick underlying his game is to make the trend small relative to the inherent variability of the random time series. For a simple example, consider if I generate a set A consisting of 500 samples from N(0,1) and a set B of 500 samples from N(1,1). If I publish the 1000 values, no-one could possibly hope to identify correctly which were from A and which were from B, because any value like 0.3 or 0.8 could easily have come from either set. If I'd used N(0,0.1) and N(1,0.1) for the two sets, on the other hand, it would have been rather different...

Amusingly, “I'm a genius time series analyst” Keenan bungled his calculations, as is documented in the comments here. His original set of trendless and trended series were sufficiently well separated that a successful partitioning might have been possible, at least with a bit of luck. Of course, his “$100,000” prize was “based on the honor system” so any entrant's chance of collecting would have to factor in their opinion of how honourable he is. I suggest that his juxtaposition of “My name would be mud if I reneged”, with the fact that he actually has reneged on his challenge by withdrawing the original set of samples and replacing it with another, might be usefully considered as evidence on the matter.

As for the Bayesian prior, that's what got me to the same answer as Andrew Gelman without the need to do all the calculations...

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

As I was saying....

So someone asked Andrew Gelman about Nic Lewis' work on climate sensitivity. And he replied:

“Despite what the Wikipedia entry says, there’s no objective prior or subjective prior, nor is there any reason to think the Jeffreys prior is a good idea in any particular example. A prior distribution, like a data distribution, is a model of the world. It encodes information and must be taken as such. Inferences can be sensitive to the prior distribution, just as they can be sensitive to the data model. That’s just life (and science): we’re always trying to learn what we can from our data.”

Which, enouragingly, is pretty much what I have been saying to Nic over a long period of time, both in person and perhaps once or twice as a reviewer of manuscripts. I am, however, not optimistic that the message will ever get through to him, as he seems completely impervious. But perhaps the rest of us can just carry on with life regardless.

Edit: having just had another glance at ATTP's post, and the still-growing comment thread, I see no reason to change my opinion about the message getting through... 

Monday, December 07, 2015

[jules pics] Getting wet

Gavin sent me a nice message yesterday with the curious title, "Stay Dry". Then I remembered that he is an American these days and one should not take these things literally. I interpreted it as a version of that "Stay Safe" phrase they love to use. Naturally it is not possible to literally Stay Dry in Yorkshire. It is always raining outside, and inside the new houses leak because they are new, and the old ones leak because they are old. However, recently, it has been quite a bit wetter than is normal! Even wetter than normal wet flood weather!! Apparently the water has invaded the homes of more than 5000 people in this part of the country, and the town where I went to ("high") school is now a Zombie Apocalypse. To be honest it never has been that cheery a place... 

I'm not one for disaster photography. Today the sun came out for a moment, so I cycled up to the local waterfall, Scaleber Force, which was in great form.


I suppose I missed the best one - apparently, for the first time evs, the waterfall has started flowing over Malham Cove. That's just a few miles away from Scaleber, on the other side of the watershed.

Meanwhile, James is practising his lime mortaring on some of the places where leaks sprung in our house. We avoided buying one of the newish houses nearby that, although favourably priced, seemed to me to be rather close to the flood plain. Ours is over 100 years old, but that alone doesn't offer much in the way of guarantees for dry toes if we are to have frequent 100 year events. 

Posted By Blogger from jules' pics.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

[jules pics] Sand Dunes #2

This one has been the front page picture on my iPad ever since...

The next morning, James and I climbed the nearest dune peak.
The wind had done a good job of smoothing out all the footprints of the day before, and ours were the first footsteps of the day.

Back to the lodge for a traditional US-stylee breakfast (pancakes etc), and we were back in Boulder that afternoon.

Posted By Blogger from jules' pics.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Trivial pursuits

So for some reason I got invited to participate in the latest Bray and von Storch survey of climate scientists, having not (IIRC) been asked previously. I barely got started on the meat of it before giving up. Screeds of hopelessly vague multi-choice questions with no context, like: how well do you think climate models can deal with clouds (answer from "very adequate" to "very inadequate"). Can or do deal with? Adequate for what? I'm not impressed.

More interestingly, I swapped a couple of emails with the author of this article over the past couple of weeks while he was writing it. Seems that I didn't say anything quotable enough to get quoted in it, but it looks pretty good to me.

Edit: Oops, first time round I was focussing on the quotable quotes to see if I disagreed with them. On a more careful re-read the author seems to think the last glacial maximum was only 1C colder than the present. No, it was 4C colder (than pre-industrial, ie 5C colder than now).

Sunday, November 29, 2015

[jules pics] Sand Dunes

Last stop on our tour was somewhere we have managed to not visit on several occasions, due to it being a bit out of the way: Great Sand Dunes National Park. We arrived in the afternoon and stayed at the nearby lodge, which was excellent with lovely views of the dunes.


The existence of the dunes is very interesting; a source of sand in the hills, plus wind blowing and water flowing in the right directions. One might wonder why there are not more dunes about, but these seem to be the only ones in the vicinity, apart, of course, from the ancient ones like those we saw at Canyonlands.

It was fairly quiet and there was no evening meal available at the lodge, but the rooms had microwave cookers, so we had shopped in a supermarket along the way. Before dinner, we went to have a closer look at the dunes.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Muse

Just like those artsy fartsy "creatives", for scientists to write, they also need to find their muse mews. James seems to have found his. This one is an excellent sort of a muse, being far more practical than the elusive lady that the creatives chase - it not only pins him down, but it also provides warmth, and furriness.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

[jules pics] Civilisation

After Hovenweep, we crossed over into Colorado and headed up a dirt road out of Durango. There in a patch of trees live two people I'd never met: the sister of a friend of mine from Japan and her husband. In earlier posts I might accidentally have been a bit impolite about some Americans. Actually I think they are a more evolved life form.  My friend, Audrey, had often times told me of her sister (Wendy) in Durango and suggested we visit. Being a straightforward kind of a person, I can't tell if these kind of invitations are serious, but Audrey is a lovely person, so I decided to take her up on the offer of her sister's hospitality! And they were indeed amazingly generous. It was actually my friends's sister's husband (Rob) who did more of the hospitality as he was not working that day. The couple had built their house 20 odd years ago using the proper American method of buying a patch of forest and reconfiguring the trees therein into a log cabin.

1 over cabin dcabin-1

It only took them 3 years. Wow. People like this in the UK get television programmes done about them! After a comfortable night in the cabin, Rob took us on a delightful tour of Durango. 

Next stop was the million dollar highway and Ouray. Ouray is another very cute town. But instead of more pix of buildings, here are some nice mountains. 

Continental Divide


The first is the high point of the highway before Ouray (the "conninennal divide"), and the second is the view from the top of the Box Canyon Falls in Ouray.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 11/11/2015 01:50:00 PM

Monday, November 09, 2015

New publication model for EGU journals

There's been longstanding debate over the way in which manuscripts are handled by the EGU/Copernicus journals. The current system is that publication fees are charged for submitted manuscripts, which are professionally typeset (hence incurring significant costs) and appear in an on-line “Discussion Journal” like CPD, GMDD etc where they remain as part of the public record (with DOI etc) irrespective of whether a final peer-reviewed paper appears or not in the non-D journal. There are several drawbacks with this approach, though its originators and advocates have always argued that the benefits outweigh these.

Well, it's all changing now anyway. From January, submitted manuscripts will not be professionally typeset, the Discussion journal will cease to exist (though the submitted manuscripts will still be public and citeable), and paper charges will only be applied after the paper has been through peer-review. It will be interesting to see how this affects the journals, and whether for better or worse. As for me, I'm pretty ambivalent about it. Paying charges in advance was always a bit awkward and puts editors in a difficult position when rejecting papers (at GMD, the unofficial policy was to offer a hefty discount on fees for their next submission). On the other hand, perhaps it does dissuade a certain amount of dross - though it apparently didn't help with this nonsense. Anyway, the new system will be much closer to the standard model for journal publication, while retaining the special feature that not only the final manuscript, but also the review process, is on-line and open to all.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

GMD raises the bar again

Not content to rest on their laurels, the executive editors at GMD have revised and updated their policies, the new version of which can be found here. Of particular note, it is now a requirement that code must always be made available to the editor at minimum, and each manuscript must include a paragraph outlining code availability. (In practice we expect that most model code will be publicly available.) This represents a logical and incremental change to the previous policy, and once again sets a new standard for open and accessible science.

It is increasingly common for journals to have code and/or data availability policies, whether or not they are enforced. This BAMS paper is also relevant, focussing on the analysis code rather than numerical model itself. 

(Disclaimer: I helped to found GMD and was an executive editor for several years. However I no longer hold this position though I continue to act as a topical editor [which basically means I handle manuscripts but don't set the editorial policy].)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

[jules pics] Dustville #2

Sorry for the gap in the holiday snaps. I had to do some other writing - of a scientific kind. Just when we were getting to the best bit of nothingness, too...

After touristy Bryce we enjoyed Utah scenic byway 12 which is not only scenic but also passes by the best named National Monument of all - "Grand Staircase-Escalante". However, the camera was tired from Bryce. After some pizza the car was set to cruise control, destination Dustville#2  Hanksville.

Hanksville (population 215) is quite the metropolis. It is so important that, when you're 50 miles away, it is still the only place on the road signs. Like Dustville#1 (Dinosaur), it has very few facilities, but the difference is that twice as many of them are open and they are also clean. I might be wrong, but it seemed a bit like all the open and clean places might have been under the same ownership. Suspect it's just one big happy family...

Whispering sands motel, Hanksville.
Hanksville Motel

A day of being in the middle of nowhere called. First stop was Natural Bridges National Monument which was the only place in the trip where some jobsworth checked my ID along with my parks pass. Of course he couldn't resist making comments of the "you're not from round here are you?" type, and so I tried to frustrate him by telling him we were from Boulder. Pops is a kind and well-mannered gentleman and so gave the game away, but to his credit he did his bit by bamboozling the man with stories about his times living in Colorado in the 1960s. However, once that was over, Natural Bridges turned out to be quite nice. We made Pops walk down to give one of them a closer look. 

Natural Bridges
Natural Bridges

My delightful travelling companions after their strenuous walk.
My companions @ Natural Bridges

Vegetative patterns...

It was a Sunday. Scarred upon my mind is a memory from the end of the last century which involved failing to get any refreshment in a North Wales town on a cold and wet Sunday. We found out last year that North Wales has moved on but I feared Utah may have not. However, the Subway in the great Megalopolis of Blanding (population 3581) was open. Almost back in civilisation (Colorado) by now, we made one more diversion, and visited Hovenweep National Monument. This is Mesa Verde for those with their own imaginations. i.e. you don't get a guide and a big group of other tourists to get in your way, but instead can wander round wondering what life was like living in these places.

Better end with a question for the reader. Interesting masonry here - are the little stones in the mortar, structural, or decorative, or both?
Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 11/07/2015 03:55:00 PM

Thursday, October 29, 2015

[jules' pics] Bryce Canyon

Arrived at Bryce Canyon to a cloudy afternoon, so decided to enjoy retail therapy at the inn, rather than visit the park for a non-existent sunset. We looked at cute trinkets for a while, wondering whether to buy a souvenir. Then I remembered having expressed regret that we bought such tiny ornaments while in Japan, as the ones we have disappear into the enormous house we have bought. Not wanting to make the same mistake again, and egged on by both Pops and James (a Yorkshireman and a Scot both trying to make me spend money is surely a sign of something!), I picked almost the largest brightly coloured enamel kokopelli we could find (not unlike this one). It is quite strange that such a large and bright thing can look merely elegant in sufficiently large, dark surroundings.

Next morning James and I visited Bryce for sunrise, and then picked up Pops after breakfast for a more extended tour.

pre-dawn at Bryce

Dawn at Bryce
Bryce Canyon

Aspen and a hole at Bryce

Flowers!!! at Bryce Canyon

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/29/2015 04:38:00 PM

Sunday, October 25, 2015

[jules' pics] Cedar Breaks

Unlike at RMNP no one made silly remarks about our attire at Cedar Breaks. This could have been because the scenery really is too spectacular to bother looking at people, but probably it was really because there were not many people there, and those that were there looked cold and like they wished they had our woolly jumpers, hats and windproof jackets. We even sparked up conversation with two cyclists. It looked like too much camping and high altitude had got the better of them, so James was curious to know what they had been up to. Cycling up hill for a very long time indeed seemed to be the answer.




Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/25/2015 01:10:00 PM

Friday, October 23, 2015

[jules' pics] Canyonlands

After a regulation Moab cappuccino granola banana nut pancake breakfast, we visited the lower, south part, of Canyonlands. My dirt road driving non-abilities (and James reluctance to let me dent the rental car) stopped us visiting the actual Needles up close, but there was, nevertheless, some impressive geology.

In the visitor centres to these places there are fanciful hand-wavey tales of oceans going in and out, and things being uplifted and tilted and eroded. Note layers of white pillows which were once, apparently, sand dunes, interspersed with what was once, um, red mud stuffs.

I suppose we were there at the driest time of year. The signs indicated that the eroded hollows in the surface usually contain water.

Finally, the answer to one of life's great questions: meteorology + geology = art !

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/23/2015 02:28:00 PM

Thursday, October 22, 2015

[jules' pics] Arches

Don't know how people survive without breakfast, but we didn't want to hang around waiting for service in the one open restaurant in Dustville Dinosaur. Next stop Moab is the opposite; very commercial with cappuccinos on every corner. It also badly needs a bypass, as it has a roaring road ripping it in two. It was quite hot for late September (low 90s F), so we spent the afternoon in the pool, and headed to Arches National Park for sunset.

James and a tree


The next morning we again left Pops in bed, and sprinted up to see Delicate Arch. I wasn't sure why it is such an icon of the region as it looks just another arch when portrayed pictorially. I think the answer is that it's not so much the arch itself as the location...
Delicate Arch panorama

But of course, I had a go at taking its portrait too. I can't decide which picture I like best, so here are two. It should have been better light at sunset, but Pops wouldn't have enjoyed the climb (he's robust, but still 85, you know! ;-) ).
Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/22/2015 02:38:00 PM

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Steamboats and Dinosaurs

Steamboat Springs, in Colorado is probably where people go skiing. There wasn't much snow about when we were there, so instead I enjoyed the hot springs at dawn. They were actually quite cool compared to Japanese hot springs, but they did include a nice swimming pool, which is not something I've ever encountered at an onsen. Other differences - the bathers were less naked but more more mixed sex. It was too expensive for both of us to enjoy this luxury so James went for a dawn run instead, upon which he met a family of moose. 

The Yampa river botanical gardens exceeded expectations, and were very colourful. 





After enjoying all this alive stuff we skipped over to Dinosaur National Monument (which spans Colorado and Utah) to admire the long dead. There is a very impressive wall of real dinosaur fossils and a trail to go hunting for more. The layers of rock are tilted by practically 90 degrees, which makes it very easy to travel through time and admire the different fossils. I don't understand dinosaur fossils. Usually, in the geologic record, something the size of Stego's thigh bone would represent quite a long period of time. But Stego's thigh bone can only actually represent an instant... so how does that work then?

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/20/2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

[jules' pics] Rocky Mountains

James says I must start blogging pix from our recent trip to the USA.

Day 1: RMNP

Rocky Mtns from Boulder
View of mtns from Boulder.

Bear Lake, RMNP
Took Pops for a walk round Bear Lake and ate lunch half way round. No chance of seeing any bears as there were so many people. Day was overcast, but pleasant nevertheless. Americans on a day out come across as really quite strange because they seem unable to walk past without making a personal comment about the most extraordinary small details in the person walking towards them - aren't they supposed to be admiring the views? I think it must be because of the gun culture. As you approach their alien fear kicks in and they instinctively check to see whether the gun you are carrying is bigger than the one they are carrying (that's just a sandwich in his hand, but maybe his gun is under his hat), and then comes the personal comment as a kind of cover-up. 

Aspen and mtn
Drove dutifully along trail ridge road admiring mtns and aspens. Onslaught of weird comments continued. One bloke, clearly panicked by James' knuckle duster of a wedding ring, asked James if it meant he was an engineer. Eh?! Others told me my camera was "real serious", but even so I managed to restrain myself from shooting them with it.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/19/2015 03:37:00 PM

Saturday, October 17, 2015

From the department of self-fulfilling prophecies

Thus at a stroke ensuring that the death rate, for those who are admitted, is higher at weekends.

(Because people who are at death's door will go to hospital regardless, whereas those who aren't so ill will be more likely to delay to Monday.)

It is of course well-known that hospitals are dangerous places - lots of people die there. My advice is to stay out of them.

Friday, October 16, 2015

kittens, anyone?

Riley and Blackie found a home while we were away. Hurrah! This one looks much more straightforward, don't you think? His name is Alfie, and he weighs only half what Blackie did. Consequently, his poos are only half the size. Double Hurrah! The only thing is that there are two of him. His slightly smaller other half is called Archie. But that's still only half the poo of Riley and Blackie put together, so must still be a good thing. 

They are much calmer than Riley - purr at the slightest provocation, will come and sit on laps to be tickled, and have not ripped up any of the furniture, yet. On the other hand, they are less dormant than Blackie, spending quite a lot of their time playing. Also unlike Blackie, they happily pee in their litter box rather than against the nearest wall. I don't know if it is a kitten thing or a brother thing, but they will both chase after toys together - Riley and Blackie used to strictly take turns like there was some kind of gentlemancat's agreement of one-cat one-toy one-time.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

[jules' pics] Columbians

People come from all over the world to live in New York. These ones are Columbians.
I'd not heard of Columbia University, and I wondered why they'd named a university after a space shuttle, but apparently this is all wrong and I should have known better. In fact it is so old and wealthy that the space shuttle was probably named after it!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 9/19/2015 01:18:00 PM

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Invitation to participate in a PhD research project on climate blogging

Posted at the request of Giorgos. Seems sane enough to me and I've already participated as a blogger. Further enquiries direct to him please.

 My name is Giorgos Zoukas and I am a second-year PhD student in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS, at the University of Edinburgh ( This guest post is an invitation to the readers and commenters of this blog to participate in my project.

This is a self-funded PhD research project that focuses on a small selection of scientist-produced climate blogs, exploring the way these blogs connect into, and form part of, broader climate science communication. The research method involves analysis of the blogs’ content, as well as semi-structured in-depth interviewing of both bloggers and readers/commenters.

Anyone who comments on this blog, on a regular basis or occasionally, or anyone who just reads this blog without posting any comments, is invited to participate as an interviewee. The interview will focus on the person’s experience as a climate blog reader/commenter.*

The participation of readers/commenters is very important to this study, one of the main purposes of which is to increase our understanding of climate blogs as online spaces of climate science communication.

If you are interested in getting involved, or if you have any questions, please contact me at: G.Zoukas -at- (Replace the -at- with the @ sign) 

(Those who have already participated through my invitation on another climate blog do not need to contact me again.)

*The research complies with the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Sciences Ethics Policy and Procedures, and an informed consent form will have to be signed by both the potential participants (interviewees) and me.

Friday, September 25, 2015 TANSTAAFL

Otherwise known as, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. At least, there isn't any longer in the Climate Division at NCAR.

It feels like a long time ago that we last dropped in to give seminars at NCAR. Well, perhaps that's not so surprising as it was during our previous careers :-) The origin of our current trip was actually jules being invited to NY for a workshop on monsoons and the ITCZ which she played a modest role in organising (from the paleo end of things). She also managed to drop in on GISS in the same week, and we decided that we ought to also fit in a holiday trip to Boulder within the same carbon footprint. Jules shoehorned dropped this into conversation with Bette several months ago who arranged for us to visit on Tuesday to give a seminar at NCAR, which is available on the web (my part and jules) for those who wish they were there. I rambled rather incoherently about independence in the context of climate model ensembles and constraints on climate sensitivity, and jules presented some hot new results based on simulations of the mid-Pliocene. Both ideas are scheduled for writing up before the end of the year (now there's a hostage to fortune).

It was all rather fun and we had some interesting discussions after lunch. The only disappointment was finding that this time we had to pay for said lunch ourselves! US taxpayers will no doubt be relieved that we did not add to your burgeoning national debt, else it might well have been the taco that finally broke the camel's back. It was probably worth it for the hour of ultra-fast wifi that enabled us to set up our new apple products.

Quite by chance I also spotted that there was a workshop at NCAR this week on Thursday and Friday on the topic of “Climate Informatics” so we arranged to go to that too. I've got myself accidentally roped in to a panel discussion on the topic of “Encoding climate knowledge into climate learning”. Yes, I also had to ask what that meant :-) If you tune in to the webcast from 2-3pm local time on Friday afternoon, you can find out for yourself!

The holiday proper starts on Saturday.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

[jules' pics] NY pics #2

Walking is a bit frustrating in NY. On the streets there's a crossing every few feet. It is quite right than no pedestrians obey the signals as, if they did, making progress would be impossible. In some places there is the option of a park to walk through, but the routes are quite twisty so I'm not sure much time is saved. Then there's the roads alongside the park which should be fast, as there are fewer junctions, and fewer twists, but the one I tried around central park was a bit rubbish due to the roots of the trees making the surface very uneven. With all these hazards, I was almost late for the start of the workshop!
Anyway, here's some park.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 9/16/2015 11:47:00 PM

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

[jules' pics] NY pics

Here to learn about rain in the past present and future, but the workshop didn't start until noon yesterday, so there was time for a bit of walking about and photographing. Photos with real camera but blogging from iPad so not sure how well these will work (anyone know a good photoblogging app?!).

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 9/16/2015 01:15:00 PM