William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Winner Announced In What Should Artists Do About Global Warming Contest

This is art.

This is art.


Ten short days ago, we started the What Should Artists Do About Global Warming Contest. It was inspired by a performance “art” piece by one Sarah Cameron Sunde, who bravely stood in San Francisco Bay “for a full cycle of tides”, which is “more-than 13-hour process”.


To battle Global Warming, what else?

Now, modern art is pure evil, as is well known. But so is Global Warming. Therefore, why not set one evil to battle the other? No matter who loses, we win! At least one foe of humanity will have been vanquished. Hence our inspiration.

On to the contestants!


  • Hans Erren suggested any Cartoon by Josh. But this would not be sending evil to fight evil, since Josh’s cartoons are not ugly—and certainly not transgressive.
  • Paul Murphy suggested a visual performance piece, in which the artist takes stage and shows an image of the southern end of a northbound bull named “Global Warming”. The artist then “sits—back to audience, facing screen—[and] types on his iPad.” This is brilliant and earns Second Place.
  • Rich suggested playing John Cage’s hoax 4’33″, a fine start of an idea that needs fleshing out.
  • Chronus said, “I will build a pyramid of charcoal, then light it afire. After a suitable period of pondering my paleo ice age ancestors who tamed the flame and fought the earliest duel with Global Climate Change, I will forage in the ice(box) for mammal meat to char as they might have. Beer, the original killer app of civilization, will be served to the audience.” This is good, but would tend to put the audience in happy mood, whereas we are aiming for, at the least, is melancholy, if not outright despair.
  • AM (via email) sent in a project outline called “The Greening Planet”, the highlights of which follow.

    “As carbon dioxide spits forth unhindered from the smokestacks of civilization the chaotic tipping point between ice age and fire age may occur…already the Australian Outback is greener, more proof that the carbon cycle is being broken…

    We don’t care that it has been hotter, wetter, colder, dryer in the past. The past is history, and therefore it was somehow perfect. The future is a mystery, and the unknown scares us until we cry green tears. But don’t cry too much, you’ll waste energy metabolizing and spew out more carbon dioxide.

    …But we do know that the civilization that has taken us so far must somehow be our doom. Maybe we should create a new myth, the counter Prometheus, who stole fire from man, and gave it back to the gods so that we could live forever in shadow, safe from uncertainty of our own making and misunderstanding.”

    This is a good start, but not a full project idea. We need art that cuts and wounds for the winner.

  • Scotian (via email) sent in a completed project. Below are two images which our reporter on the spot was able to capture, both of which show the devastating nature of Global Warming and the ravages of sea-level rise!

    “I and my lady love, the strawberry blonde bombshell, decided on a lobster dinner at Hall’s Harbour before global warming caused the inevitable extinction of the lobster. I took the following photo on arrival. The boats were dragged up on the beach for safekeeping and could be easily launched down the central river.”

    Image 1

    Image 1

    “After a leisurely and very enjoyable meal of lobster, made even more poignant by the thought of their coming extinction, I and my one true love exited the restaurant to encounter a horrifying sight. The Greenland ice sheet had clearly collapsed while we were eating the last lobsters in existence, causing an unprecedented increase in sea level.”

    Image 2

    Image 2

    This clearly deserves an Honourable Mention, and could well have been the winner, if only Scotian had melted those glaciers himself in an effort to raise awareness.

The Winner!

Sheri suggested three projects, the best of which is this: “Alicia and George volunteered to spend one hour in light clothing in a meat freezer to show how the warming planet may actually make things more cold and there would be more snow and ice. Outside of the violent shivering, both reported the experience was certainly worth it and they would be doing more such art in the future, after the skin graphs are finished and the amputated fingers and toes surgeries heal.”

This is a clear and convincing winner because it neatly highlights the paradoxical nature of Global Warming, and the mysterious way it often makes things cold. Also, it involves amputation and bloody stumps, and if that doesn’t put the modern in “modern art”, nothing does.

The Prize

Sheri will receive a Kindle copy of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein (due to be released November 13, 2014). A Kindle is not needed to read the book; it can be read various ways using Amazon’s free readers.

Sheri, supply me your Amazon-preferred email by 5 September 2014. If you’ve forgotten my email, use the Contact Page.

We Know The Climate Is Warming Because It Isn’t

Another balmy summer day, courtesy of global warming.

Another balmy summer day, courtesy of global warming.

What do you call the mental process which allows a man to say “What’s firmly established is that the climate is warming” while also holding that “There’s been a burst of worthy research aimed at figuring out what causes the stutter-steps in the process—including the current hiatus/pause/plateau [in warming]“?

Which is it? The climate is warming or it isn’t?

Since the man who said this is a reporter (for a far-left newspaper), I’m inclined to put it down to reporteritis, but if we have a psychologist in the house, perhaps he can suggest a better term.

Whatever it is, the man is not alone; indeed, he is only quoting his scientific betters, who also claim that the climate is warming because it isn’t. This stark, throbbing contradiction is called “settled science”, and if one doesn’t want to be called a fool, one had better avow it reasonable.

Among others, the reporter quotes Joshua Willis of JPL who said, “if you mean how robust is the ‘slowdown’ in global surface warming, the answer is it just probably just barely statistically significant.”

He also queried John Michael Wallace, emeritus at U. Washington, who said, “The prevailing view…was that the signal of human-induced global warming first clearly emerged from the background noise of natural variability starting in the 1970s..” and “It seemed to me that the hiatus in the warming, which by then was approaching ten years in length, should not be dismissed as a statistical fluke” and “I hope this will lead to a broader discussion about the contribution of natural variability to local climate trends and to the statistics of extreme events.”

These experts belie an ignorance of the nature of statistical evidence. Let’s review what that evidence implies for the theory of doom-laden global warming.

The theory said, for decades, that temperatures would be high, yet they were not high. That logically implies that the theory is wrong. That it it not right. That it is flawed. That it is in error. That it should not be trusted. That the science behind the theory cannot be settled. That to believe the theory is true in the face of this evidence is unreasonable.

To say the theory which promised an increase where there was instead a “hiatus” or “pause”, is to say the theory is false. The theory did not say “hiatus” or “pause”, but increase.

To still believe the theory true in the face of this evidence is to believe against the evidence, and to believe on the basis of something else. What this is can be told to us by our psychologist.

What this something else cannot be is “natural variability.” Natural variability is just what the theory promised to quantify. It didn’t. Natural variability is the climate. It is a mistake to say the climate is some “signal” overlaid with “noise”. There are only causes and effects. The effects are the natural variability—the observations—the causes, at least one of them, are what climatologists have obviously misidentified.

Statistics is only useful to quantify the uncertainty we have in observations not yet seen. Thus it is pointless to say the “hiatus” is or isn’t “statistically significant.” Some thing or things caused the temperature to take the values it did. If we knew what those causes were, we would have made good forecasts: we didn’t; therefore, we don’t know the causes. Statistical statements about the past are thus of no interest (other than tallying or noting what happened, of course).

If the statistical model that said the “hiatus” was “statistically significant” was any good, it would be able to skillfully predict future temperatures. Can it?

Some climatologists say, “The theory is true, but the oceans portion is broken.” This makes no sense. The theory was supposed to incorporate the oceans; rather, the oceans were part of the theory. The theory is still wrong, and for the same reasons.

He could instead say, “The theory is false, and perhaps the oceans portion is why.” That could be true. Maybe the oceans portion of the theory is broken. If so, fix it, thus creating a new theory. Make new forecasts with this new theory and let’s see if they better match reality.

The reason good scientists do not believe in apocalyptic global warming theory is because that theory has failed consistently (and outrageously, given its hype) to produce skillful predictions.

It it flabbergasting therefore to hear so many say that “obviously” the theory is still true. It can’t be.

Tomorrow: the winner announced in the What Should Artists Do About Global Warming Contest!

Scared Scientists! Climate Terror!


Picture this

The heck with evidence: it’s how much you care that counts. That sentiment is what’s behind Nick Bowers’s new Scared Scientists project. Motto: “Nobody is safe”!

The far-left Huffington Post reports that Bowers asked scientists with livelihoods based on environmental work to contemplate their findings and stare into the middle distance while he, Bowers, captured their pensive and “frightened” expressions.

That the burdens of the world are on these narrow shoulders is what Bowers hoped to show (examples above). Well, that’s not what his pictures say to me. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I see different thoughts passing through these top minds—thoughts like these:

  • Shauna Murray (top left), a biologist, looks like she just discovered her goat’s milk yogurt bought at the food co-op contained non-organic fruit.
  • Tim Flannery (top right), a mammalogist, appears as if he’s come to the realization that generic stool softeners are not a wise investment.
  • Sarah Perkins (bottom left), a weather researcher, might be wondering how many people will notice the ill-advised steel post puncturing her face (I did).
  • Matthew England (bottom right), an oceanographer, could be thinking about his first pet, a puppy perhaps named Oopsie, who strayed too near the M4 Western Motorway.

Bowers’s idea isn’t as silly as it sounds—or looks. Much can be learned from the facial expressions of our deepest thinkers. For instance, I was able to discover this picture of physicists (not grant-funded climatologists) discussing the accuracy of climate models:


The full range of emotion can be seen. This poor woman, a scientist reliant on government grants and worried that the flow might cease once it was recognized that climate models have no skill, was captured mid contemplation in this snapshot.


She needn’t have worried, of course. Accuracy is no longer a scientific requirement.

Not yet known is just what’s on the mind of this climatological fellow.

Climatologist are people too or Terror from the skies!

We good-naturedly tease climatologists in our as-yet vain, but surely ultimately successful, strategy of reminding them of the key scientific principle that bad forecasts logically imply bad theories. But sometimes we forget that climatologists are more sensitive than the average scientist, and that they have feelings, too.

Joe Duggan never forgot. He cares, always and ever.

How? Well, he has a Masters in science communication (not to be confused with a Masters in just-plain science), which led to the masterful plan to ask climate scientists to describe how they feel, about their climate terror.

According to the leftist National Journal (Australia), Duggan solicited the most nervous of climatologists and had them write letters which could be displayed in an “installation.” They are also collected on Twitter.

Yours Truly’s favorite, written by an ecologist who missed his true calling as a greeting card writer:

Duggan’s website contains a wealth of information, like that provided by Dr Elvira Poloczanska Climate Change Ecologist, CSIRO, who tells us there are seven billions folks on the planet and, I quote, “I am one of seven billion, as are you”.

Dr Roger Bodman, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Victoria University, disputes Poloczanska’s numbers and says global warming “will impact adversely on many thousands of people.” When global warming impacts, people get hurt.

Kevin Walsh, Associate Professor and Reader, School of Earth Sciences University of Melbourne said, “I wish that climate change were not real.” Your wish is my command, Walsh, old thing, if by “climate change” you mean a world doomed by the odd carbon dioxide molecule.

Somebody named A.J. Pitman is “scared” that he “cannot trigger action.” That’s what gun oil is for, A.J. Always clean your weapon after use! That you don’t know this shows you how far over-specialization in science has progressed.

The same Sarah Perkins we met above (of face-piercing fame) might be the most concerned.

For sometime now I’ve been terribly worried. I wish I didn’t have to acknowledge it, but everything I have feared is happening. I used to think I was paranoid, but it’s true. She’s slipping away from us. She’s been showing signs of acute illness for quite a while, but no one has really done anything. Her increased erratic behaviour is something I’ve especially noticed. Certain behaviours that were only rare occurrences are starting to occur more often, and with heightened anger. I’ve tried to highlight these changes time and time again, as well as their speed of increase, but no one has paid attention.

Who’s this “she”? Herself? Somebody call a shrink before it’s too late!

Still to come! The winner in the What Should Artists Do About Global Warming Contest.

The Global Warming Non-Expert Expert

Psychiatrists testing a cat's reaction to the news that Global Warming will cause an increase in mice.

Psychiatrists testing a cat’s reaction to the news that Global Warming will cause an increase in mice.

Reporteritis is the disease, or rather psychiatric condition, common among journalists, brought on by exposure to important people and events. The exposure causes the journalist to feel that he too is as important and as knowledgeable as the people on whom he is reporting.

It is a terrible, wracking malady, awful to see. Meet the Press’s ex David Gregory is perhaps the most prominent sufferer and awareness-raising poster boy for the disease. (The poor fellow has been observed at restaurants haranguing staff “Do you know who I am?” He may have reached the fatal stages.)

Journalists, opinion-page editors, and reporters are only the public face of the condition. It strikes, perhaps even more mercilessly, the bien pensant, too. The closer a person believes he is, or desires to be, part of the “in” crowd, the more susceptible he is. (When it infests non-reporters, the disease is called the same name.)

Take global warming as an example. For decades, climatologists have told us that temperature would be high, yet temperatures were always low. This discrepancy infallibly (as in infallibly) indicates that the climatologists have done something, we know not what, wrong.

Now a climatologist dedicated to the belief that temperatures are rising will, it is true, seek to evade the evidence of actual observations, by inventing for himself all sorts of besides-the-point explanations, such as the warming he promised is on “hiatus”. He will refuse to see that he originally promised a lack of “hiatus”, and was therefore at fault.

But this is excuse-finding, the standard reaction of people who cannot admit error, a common human failing. Most climatologists will eventually come to see their error (as long as their careers do not hinge on perpetuating that error).

No, what is of interest are the civilians who latch onto global warming with even stronger conviction than climatologists. First a clarification: Global Warming is ambiguous, and easy to equivocate. To a physicist it means warming caused by mankind, a strictly scientific matter. But to most others, it means why the government should take over.

So that when a non-climatologist hears “global warming” and expresses warm interest or visceral hatred for it, it is not the banal science of cloud-model parameterizations he has in mind, but how the government will benignly and beneficently, or brutishly and blindly, intrude on citizens’ lives. The science to these people is largely besides the point, and is anyway too difficult to master.

Still there is no disease. That only comes when the equivocation occurs, when people think they know as much science as climatologists because they desire or despise government excess. Thus there are a minority of folks who loathe massive state control who claim global warming is a “hoax”. Yet these folks, small in number and without power, forget that hoaxes are not easy to perpetuate and that sincere self-deception is far better explanation of scientific error than organized malfeasance.

The real trouble comes from those in power. Take psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton who wrote an article for the far-left New York Times entitled “The Climate Swerve”. Now, nowhere in his resume does Lifton show any background in physics, and though like anybody he might have picked some up along the way, he has nowhere indicated that he has a systematic understanding of the subject.

Yet his ignorance does not stop him from writing, “Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable.” And “Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth.” And much more along the same lines.

The reason I say Lifton, who is not intellectually challenged, might suffer from reporteritis is that he feels he is part of climate science merely because he has written about it. The equivocation is there. But he must be as aware of the trivial criterion of scientific success and failure as anybody. That climate models have failed consistently can only mean they are faulty, and therefore their implied threat of doom is improbable at best.

Still, there is sits, his glasses slumped on his nose and he lectures us sadly on why aren’t “doing something.”

Since the disease is contagious, Lifton is only one of many, those who “believe” in global warming, not because they understand the science, but because they desire its “solution.”

Philosophic Issues in Cosmology VII: Is there a Multiverse?–Guest Post by Bob Kurland

A meeting of the multiverse organizers.

A meeting of the multiverse organizers.

Bob Kurland is a retired, cranky, old physicist, and convert to Catholicism. He shows that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.

Read Part VI. *Quotations, unless otherwise specified, are from Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology, George F.R. Ellis.

It’s hard to build models of inflation that don’t lead to a multiverse. It’s not impossible, so I think there’s still certainly research that needs to be done. But most models of inflation do lead to a multiverse, and evidence for inflation will be pushing us in the direction of taking [the idea of a] multiverse seriously. —Alan Guth

“Well, there is the hypothesis…that all possible universes exist, and we find ourselves, not surprisingly, in one that contains life. But that is a cop-out, which dispenses with the attempt to explain anything. And without the hypothesis of multiple universes, the observation that if life hadn’t come into existence we wouldn’t be here has no significance. One doesn’t show that something doesn’t require explanation by pointing out that it is a condition of one’s existence. If I ask for an explanation of the fact that the air pressure in the transcontinental jet is close to that at sea level, it is no answer to point out that if it weren’t, I’d be dead. —Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos.

The notion of an ensemble of many possible universes (small u), not causally connected, “a multiverse”, has been used to counter the unlikeliness of all the anthropic coincidences. To quote Ellis*:

If there is a large enough ensemble of numerous universes with varying properties, it may be claimed that it becomes virtually certain that some of them will just happen to get things right, so that life can exist; and this can help explain the fine-tuned nature of many parameters whose value values are otherwise unconstrained by physics…However there are a number of problems with this concept. Besides, this proposal is observationally and experimentally untestable, thus its scientific status is debatable.

One problem (other than the untestable aspect) is that the probabilistic character of the multiverse is never specified by authors who invoke it:

These three elements (the possibility space [the population description], the measure [the quantities that describe the particular universe], and the distribution function [for the measure]) ,must all be clearly defined in order to give a proper specification of a multiverse…This is almost never done.

What is also not usually specified are the possible types of universes contained in a multiverse. Which of the types below should be included?

  • “Weak Variation: only the values of the constants of physics are allowed to vary?…
  • Moderate Variation: different symmetry groups, or numbers of dimensions…
  • Strong Variation: different numbers and kinds of forces, universes without quantum theory or in which relativity is untrue (e.g. there is an aether), some in which string theory is a good theory for quantum gravity and others where it is not, some with quite different bases for the laws of physics (e.g. no variational principles).
  • Extreme Variation: universes where physics is not well described by mathematics, with different logic; universes ruled by local deities; allowing magic… Without even mathematics or logic?

Which is claimed to be the properties of the multiverse, and why? We can express our dilemma here through the paradoxical question: Are the laws of logic necessary in all possible universes?”

Although the existence of multiverses cannot be justified by measurements, do they offer good explanations for the anthropic coincidences? Ellis answers:

It has been suggested that they (multiverses) explain the parameters of physics and of cosmology and in particular the very problematic values of the cosmological constant (lambda, the constant for negative pressure). The argument goes as follows: assume a multiverse exists; observers can only exist in one of the highly improbable biophilic outliers where the value of the cosmological constant is very small…If the multiverse has many varied locations with differing properties that may indeed help us understand the Anthropic issue: some regions will allow life to exist, others will not. This does provide a useful modicum of explanatory power. However it is far from conclusive.

Firstly, it is unclear why the multiverse should have the restricted kinds of variations of the cosmological constant assumed in (these) analyses…If we assume ‘all that can happen, happens’ the variations will not be of that restricted kind; those analyses will not apply.

Secondly, ultimate issues remain. Why does the unique larger whole (the multiverse) have the properties it does? Why this multiverse rather than any other one? (emphasis added)

I will add to Ellis’s comment that even though one universe in a multiverse has an appropriate value for a particular constant (say, lambda), it will not necessarily be the case that other parameters will be appropriate. There still has to be a conjunction of values for all the laws and constants, which requires either a Theory of Everything to give that (something to wonder about in itself) , or more amazing coincidences.

Ellis further argues that probability-based arguments cannot demonstrate the existence of a multiverse:

Probability arguments cannot be used to prove the existence of a multiverse, for they are only applicable if a multiverse (that is to say, a population of multiverses) exists. Furthermore probability arguments can never prove anything for certain, as it is not possible to violate any probability predictions, and this is a fortiori so when there is only one case to consider, so that no statistical observations are possible. (emphasis in the original). All one can say on the basis of probability arguments is that some specific state is very improbable. But this does not prove it is impossible; indeed if is stated to have a low probability, that is precisely a statement that it is possible…probability arguments…(are) equivalent to the claim that the universe is generic rather than special, but whether this is so or not is precisely the issue under debate.

The issue of whether a multiverse can contain an infinite number of universes (thus justifying the claim that “whatever can happen will happen”) is addressed by Ellis as part of the question whether an infinite number can be considered as real (rather than as a mathematical construct) in his analysis of the philosophic/ metaphysical questions involved in cosmology, and will be discussed in the last post of this summary.

In conclusion, Ellis argues that Multiverses are a philosophical rather than scientific proposal.

The idea of a multiverse provides a possible route for the explanation of fine-tuning. But it is not uniquely defined, is not scientifically testable … and in the end simply postpones the ultimate metaphysical questions.

These philosophic issues will be discussed in the final post of this series.

See Dr Kurland’s original post, linked above, for a further discussion of Inflation.

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