Two Open Letters To Congress On Climate Change, And A New Third

There are two open letters shot off to Congress these last days, one from “alarmist” scientists and the other from “denialist” scientists1. Those pejoratives were not picked by me, but by each rival camp, each seeking to find the best stinger to dismiss the other with a word.

The 28 January letter was signed by, inter alia, Ben Santer, Kevin Trenberth, and Michael Mann. The 8 February letter was avowed by Richard Lindzen, Craig Idso, and Patrick Michaels and others of a similar mind. These names are familiar enough so that readers will understand me when I say that the first letter was of the form “Is too!“, the later answering “Is not!

Letter two begins, after explaining that its purpose is to rebut the authors of letter one, with

We, the undersigned, totally disagree with them and would like to take this opportunity to briefly state our side of the story.

The eighteen climate alarmists (as we refer to them, not derogatorily, but simply because they view themselves as “sounding the alarm” about so many things climatic) state that…

Sarcasm, humor, and bombast have their place in this debate, but a playground “They started it!” is not the ideal way to address Congress. And nobody is buying the demure claim that “We mean ‘alarmist’ in a good way,” especially considering that phrase is littered throughout the letter. These techniques, and the non-arresting language used throughout, make the effort too easy to dismiss. I believe an opportunity has been missed.

How much better to have begun:

New Letter

To the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate:

We believe that many of our brother and sister scientists are too certain of themselves regarding climate change. We have looked at the same data and same models that they have, but we have drawn different conclusions. We disagree about the range and extremity of changes and wonder if our colleagues have let their politics influence their science.

Our colleagues often point to their numbers and suggest that because many of them belong to various learned organizations, they therefore cannot be wrong. But we belong to the same organizations and we also have a large membership. Our colleagues are fond of announcing that they have polled themselves and that their resulting unanimity proves their case. But we have polled ourselves too, and we are unanimous in concluding a logical fallacy is not an ideal foundation for science. No scientific body has license to issue “Truths” determined by vote.

Earth’s climate has always changed; it has never been constant; thus we conclude that it always will change. It is also clear that mankind must have some effect on the climate. With these statements, we agree with our colleagues. We diverge when estimating the magnitude of effects.

There have not yet been accurate predictions of future climates to a level sufficient to convince us that our understanding of climate science is complete. Our colleagues say that no one has yet “provided an alternative scientific theory that adequately satisfies the observable evidence or conforms to our understanding of physics, chemistry, and climate dynamics.” This is false, alternate theories abound; but even if our colleagues’ claim were true, it does not follow that they have discovered the correct theory. This is their second fallacy.

Based on modeling efforts thus far, the level of certainty of what Earth’s future climate will be is low. Even assuming a constant climate, there exists great uncertainty in how the environment, our economy, human health, and national security are affected by the climate. Thus, projections of future threats to or changes in these things are doubly uncertain.

We must first improve our understanding of climate change before we can confidently say what will happen in other areas. Our colleagues are satisfied by “the seriousness of the charges” and say doing something is better than doing nothing. We are not convinced and would remind our colleagues that examples of unanticipated consequences of precipitous actions has a long and depressing history.

It is also strange to us that our colleagues have discovered that only bad things will happen if the planet warms. No inconvenience is so small that it will not develop into a positive menace once climate change truly begins. Every species of animal is threatened with extinction and hardship, except pests, which are projected to thrive. Warmer climes are predicted to exacerbate every malady and will palliate none. All this might be so, but it is extraordinarily unlikely.

Our colleagues finally devolve into name calling, which is, as you know, always a sign of a lack of surety. They claim that “deniers”, defined as those who disagree with them, should not be listened to because these deniers deny their theories. That many of our colleagues have convinced themselves of the unassailability of their position based on an argument as blatantly fallacious as this one causes us to view the remainder of their claims with healthy suspicion.

Lastly, our colleagues call for Congressional hearings on the state of climatology. We welcome this idea and look forward to participating.


William M. Briggs

Anybody else? (Scientists I mean.)


1Joe D’Aleo sent me a copy of the “denialist” letter a day before it went public. I took this to be an indirect invitation to sign it, but I hadn’t the time to even read it before it was sent. But this matters not: I would not have signed.

In Their Own Words: Obama On Health, Holder On Race

Pay for your own damn health care

In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, President O’bama said

What I hear you saying is that the notion that us saying to people that don’t have health insurance, don’t make me pay for your health insurance, if you get sick, you have a responsibility to make sure you have coverage. There’s nothing socialist about that. That’s saying to Americans, we’re going each of us be responsible for our own health care.

The sentiments behind these words are not consonant. If each citizen is responsible for his own health care, then each citizen should pay should he become ill or not pay if he remains healthy. He may also choose to contact a bookie and bet he will become ill, taking whatever odds he and the bookie negotiate. If he remains healthy, he loses the bet; but if he sickens, he wins and the bookie pays. If he chooses not to place a bet yet he subsequently sickens, then the resulting health care bill is his burden, not mine, not yours, and not Mr Obama’s. This system is simple and can be called the personal responsibility scenario.

The other scenario is Obama care, or health care socialism. Here, some citizens are forced to pay, regardless of desire or need, into a bureaucracy tasked to dole a fraction of these taxes back out for government-approved “health care” procedures. Many citizens pay nothing. All citizens receive the same level of minimum care. Richer citizens can, by paying still more, operate additionally under the personal responsibility scenario—unless, as often happens, the government decides this is not “fair” and bans departures from its mandated system. Both citizens and health-care providers become subservient to an unelected, self-satisfied bureaucracy.

It is clear to anyone with a rudimentary mathematical ability that proper “insurance” can only be found in the personal responsibility scenario. To call the mandatory payments under Obama care “insurance” is a deliberate obfuscation; it is newspeak: any enforced payment is a tax and nothing else. This is true even if you don’t want it to be.

A cowardly attorney on race

Attorney General Eric Holder called the American people “essentially a nation of cowards” because they would not “openly” discuss the issue of race. Evidently his definition of “openly” departs from its usual sense. Its context suggests Holder had in mind an antonym of “openly”, but that he had become confused by the time the words reached his lips, a not unusual symptom of politicians and lawyers.

But never mind. It is another, non-cowardly statement on race that is of interest today:

“The facts are clear,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.”

Yet we also learn that

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Justice Department’s own Bureau of Justice Statistics, the leading causes of death for African-American women between the ages 15-45 are cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries such as car accidents, and HIV disease. Homicide comes in fifth — and includes murders by strangers. In 2006 (the latest year for which full statistics are available), several hundred African-American women died from intimate partner homicide…but far fewer than the approximately 6,800 women who died of the other leading causes.

Our task is to identify how Holder came to say what he did given these statistics. There are only two clauses in Holder’s statement which can produce confusion, “the facts are clear” and “the leading cause.”

Now, “the facts are clear” is so often a prefix to political statements that it is the equivalent to a clearing of the throat. And when we line up cases of “the facts are clear” with the actual facts, we find no correlation. Thus, though the phrase has a definite, literal English meaning, it is instead an idiom whose meaning is roughly, “I’m beginning to talk.” Holder, therefore, made no mistake in using it.

“The leading cause” is more problematic for our Attorney General. Each word is clear, and together their only potential ambiguity is if there are two or more causes tied for “leading” yet only one is mentioned. This is not the case here, where there is more than an order of magnitude separating the “leading” from the “least” (say) causes of death.

Thus, the only possible conclusions are that Holder lied, that he spoke in ignorance, or that he confused the word “leading” with “least.” If Holder lied, then we know our highest officer of the law is willing to lie for political gain. If he spoke in ignorance, then he is sloppy and apt to rush to judgment on matters racial. But if he confused those two words, then we are in for a lot of trouble.

Music Not So Super At Super Bowl: Faked Cheering?

Oh, say, can you see, by the field’s klieg lights, what so proudly we hailed? And proudly hailed to the world over in full Dolby surround-sound HD. What an embarrassment! Bombs bursting on stage was about the size of it.

They always say that the “Super” Bowl is the most watched television program the world over. Like many well known facts and statistics, this one is made up, purely fictional, a combination of desire and wild speculation. But it is at least true that the game is seen by many non Americans, folks who are not used to our ways and have not built up a tolerance to bad music as we have.

The joyless-tivities began with a rendition of America The Beautiful sung by some nondescript celebrity called Lea Michele whose near monotone, one-octave effort sounded like it was arranged by Elton John, or whoever it is that orchestrated every damn Broadway show since 1990. Plastic phrasing, interchangeable chords, lifeless notes, pre-packed and ready made for the microphone and cheesy amplification. One step short of muzak. The kind of signing that requires no skill, no practice. The kind that can be mastered even by celebrities.

If you want stirring, if you want home-grown gospel, if you want to talk about pure from the heart God-shedding-his-grace-on-thee, then you cannot do better than Ray Charles singing the same song. That’s the re-enlistment version, baby. Let he that hath an ear and so forth.

Now, as bad as Michele’s signing was (the best Hollywood Gossip could say was that it “avoided controversy”—high praise), it was merely an average awful banality, easily ignored as you made one last trip to the refrigerator to grab something that resembled beer. It was what came after that horrified.

The real pain began when a strangely dressed, husky voiced Christina Aguilera croaked out what she thought was our National Anthem. The word is already spreading that she made a mistake in the lyric; a typo, if you like. But typos can be forgiven. The stutters, cheats, and out-of-tune wheezing cannot be. Substituting falsetto for high notes is a trick you’d expect from a guy sitting on a dingy stage squinting at 501 Song Cheats, not from a singer heard by at least millions.

The glissando-like whoa-ah-whoa-ah-whoa-ization of every note at the end of every bar was stupid and undisciplined. It’s the kind of signing that would impress only those whose exposure to music was limited to the nursery and FM radio. What came out of her mouth was the equivalent of a black velvet painting of a needlessly angry tiger. What made it worse was that she managed to look exhausted by her efforts. It’s one thing to sing badly, but another suggest that this was the best one can do.

Yet lower depths were still to plumb. The half-time “show” by the group calling themselves Black-eyed Peas demonstrated everything that is wrong with modern music. The act was so awful that it is certain that my limited powers of description will fail to covey how nausea-inducing it was. I won’t even discuss how their costumes looked like they were thought up by a sugar-addled eight-year-old trick-or-treater. I’ll stick strictly to the music.

The most obvious problem was that their voices were processed through some electronic contraption. The singing itself was nearly, but not quite, at the level of a karaoke bar at 2 am; the computerization gave pay to the old saying “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you’ve ever heard polished (published) versions of their songs, you’ll know what magic a small army of dedicated sound engineers acting as editors can work.

And why are they so fond of their lyric “Looks like it’s gonna be a good night”? Its two-dozen repetitions were in direct contradistinction from the night viewers had.

Did you notice the biggest farce of the evening? If you paid careful attention to the audience behind the band—not the imported signers, but the actual fans in the stadium—you’ll have noticed that most of them sat rock still, evidently unimpressed by the spectacle they suffered through. Yet at the appointed ends of the band’s noise (songs), a crescendo of applause and cheering was heard.

Was this faked? Or at least augmented, the way laugh-tracks are overlaid on sitcoms shot “in front of a live studio audience”? I’d be willing to bet that it was.

A Correction: I’ve Been Misquoted

On Thursday, 3 February of this year I was called by Saginaw News reporter Deborah Brown, who asked me, among other things, about claims made by folks like Al Gore that global warming was responsible for this year’s cold and snowy weather.

I am contacted by reporters frequently enough, but I usually insist that they put their questions to me in writing so that I can answer them similarly. However, this time I made the mistake of talking on the phone because I was in a hurry. I won’t do this again.

The error Brown made in misquoting me is minor enough, but it is still irksome. I spent about fifteen minutes on the phone with Brown carefully explaining the statistics of how to count the number and intensity of storms and so forth. None or little of this conversation made it into her eventual story.

The story introduces Neil Mower, a Professor (she incorrectly says “associate professor”) of meteorology at Central Michigan University. She quotes Neil as saying that the warming we’ve seen has been caused by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, a familiar empirical claim. As I’ve said many times, few dispute this: we only argue about the magnitude of the change. Besides having Mower say that he once shared an office with Roy Spencer, that is all we hear from Neil.

Brown then introduces me and says that I am “a former student of Mower’s, a statistician and a research associate at Cornell University in New York, and a former statistics instructor at Central.” I am a former student of Neil’s, I am a statistician. I am not, nor have I ever been, a “research associate” at Cornell. I am also not a “former statistics instructor”: I am a current Adjunct Professor of statistics, and I teach each summer in the ILR Masters of Professional Studies program. I am a former Assistant Professor of biostatistics at the Cornell Medical School.

Brown paraphrases me as saying, “Mower is more certain of himself than he has a right to be.”

I absolutely, 100% never said that. What I did say was that those people who said that the latest storms were caused by global warming were too certain of themselves. I explained to her how you can’t point to any one storm, how you have to look long-term, etc.

She next quotes me as saying:

“We have not seen an increase in the number of storms, nor an increase in their intensity,” Briggs said. “It is true that some models would predict that as the surface gets warmer, more energy is available, but statistically we can’t say we’ve seen it.”

I did say something close to this, and stand by it.

She then has me say:

“It’s been very cold, but it would be an absolute mistake to say that global warming causes weather,” Briggs said.

Which I did not say, nor anything close to it. It the exact opposite of what I believe. Climate is weather; rather, climate is the average (suitably taken) of weather. I did jokingly say that it would be an “absolute mistake to say that global warming causes global cooling” as some activists have been saying of this winter. Never make a pun to a reporter out for a story.

What angers me is that it appears that Brown tried to make the story personal, a common reportorial trick, by mentioning that I was once Niel’s student but that we now disagree and so forth. We might very well disagree, but that is nothing.

Niel is an honorable man and there cannot be a better instructor in meteorology anywhere. His synoptic and dynamics lectures are filled with brilliant physical insight and are so clear that the equations pour right into your head. He insists his students work hard and never settles for inferior work. I remember, fondly, how he would berate me for writing my mathematical proofs backwards. When I matriculated as a graduate student at Cornell, I retook dynamics for my Masters. The course there was reputedly tough and arduous, but was nothing compared to Neil’s, where I learned better and more.

I wrote Niel and found, lo, he had the same experience I had: a long conversation and his printed quotations a weak reflection of his spoken words.

No one who has dealt with reporters will find anything unusual in this story. And it’s probably silly for me to spend so much effort to correct such a small error. But this subject is already more than contentious, so it’s best to get things right.

Super Bowl Indicator Busted: A Sports/Markets Indicator for the Next Century—Guest Post by Doug Magowan

Doug Magowan spends his days poring over financial numbers. Today he offers us, tongue firmly in cheek, a new way to get rich quick. All you have to do is following the sports page.

The Super Bowl Indicator (SBI) says that stocks will be up in years where a team from the original NFL wins the super bowl, and down when a team that began its life in the upstart AFL wins. The SBI was discovered by Leonard Koppett in 1977, and first described in an issue of The Sporting News.

It was a perfect 11 for 11 before it was first published, and dismissed by most as a fluke after it was published. The funny thing is that it continued to be right. Over the next 20 years, it was right 18 times. It reached a status that it could not be ignored.

Until 1998, when something went dramatically wrong.

Had you invested $1,000 in the S&P 500 index on December 31, 1966, you would have had $36,300 dollars at the end of 1997. But had you timed the market, long in the years the SBI said to go long, and short the other years; you would have been sitting on $90,000.

But, when the SBI went bad, it was horrendous. Not only did it miss, but the years it missed were some of the more dramatic moves of the market. Had you followed the SBI, you would have missed the last years of the dot-com boom, and jumped in just in time for the collapse. You would have been short the market for much of the 2000′s and back in just in time to watch the banks implode.

Superbowl index

The loss of the Super Bowl Indicator has sent us financial analysts to plum deep into the sports page to find the next market indicator. I stumbled on this one in September of last year. As an avid fan of the San Francisco Giants and a professional watcher of the markets, I began with why a good day on the trading floor seemed to coincide with a good day on the baseball diamond. It was time to put the numbers to the test.

Giants index

There was an uncanny relationship between the Giants place in the chase for the NL West Division and the performance of the Dow Jones industrial average. In the picture, the orange line represents the distance behind the 1st place team (negative numbers), or the distance ahead of the second place team in the division (positive numbers). The black line is the DJIA, scaled to fit this chart.

I didn’t have a good idea how to fit the post season into this framework, but the Giants won the World Series and the market has been nothing but up ever since.

I haven’t yet worked out whether the Giants drive the market or if the market helps the Giants to drive the ball. Pitchers and catchers report February 14th. More data is to come.

For those of you who say this is a fluke, I have my T-Stats and P-Stats. No way is this just a chance. And, if it is, don’t rain on my sunshine!

Planet Earth Al Gore Explains ‘Snowmageddon’: Fox News Story

I was quoted by Gene Koprowski in his Fox News story “Planet Earth Al Gore Explains ‘Snowmageddon’“. (This accounted for the several hundred Google and other search engine redirects to this site from people searching for “dr william m briggs”.)

Apparently, our boy Gore was telling all who would listen that global warming is so evil, so unrepentantly vile, that anything that has gone wrong in the world did so because of climate change. To paraphrase David Stove, Gore didn’t quite say that wooden legs were caused by global warming, but I don’t think he’d like to hear it denied.

Koprowski (also picked up here):

But not surprisingly, some climate-change skeptics are a bit hot under the collar over Gore’s “scientific” explanation.

“Gore’s statement actually indicates a deeper problem — lack of precise predictions,” said Dr. William M. Briggs, a statistician and climate scientist. His research shows that there are no increased weather problems because of global warming, Briggs told

“He’s saying that anything bad that happens must be because global warming caused it. Activists like Gore are great at identifying events after the fact as being caused by global warming, but terrible at predicting them beforehand,” Briggs said.

My research points to world-wide tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons). There is no evidence that these storms have increased in number, intensity or strength, or longevity. In fact, there might have been, over the past decade, a slight decrease in these attributes. But I think that this is well known.

The other argument I make is the better one. It takes no effort to point to untoward events after the fact and say, Jean Dixon-like, “See! More evidence that my theory is right!” If it is true that global warming will cause the Northern Hemisphere to experience cooler temperatures, then say so in advance. Don’t bustle to the cameras after things go wrong if you did not, or could not, say that they would in advance.

Vague predictions like “There will be snowstorms and rumors of snowstorms” do not count and are not evidence that the end is near. Take heed that no man deceive you. It is, after all, perfectly possible to forecast that there will be, say, “15% more snowfall in the 2010-2011 Northern Hemisphere winter”, or that “There will be at least three more Pacific ocean typhoons in 2011 than there were in 2010″, and so forth.

What is absurd is to point to a typhoon/cyclone/hurricane/snow storm after it has occurred and say that, “I could have predicted that if I wanted to. I chose not to because, among other reasons, I was busy. But that storm certainly indicates that my theory of climate change is true.”

Of course, it might be true that this storm was caused by mechanisms consistent with anthropogenic climate change theory; however, since every winter has its share of snowstorms, and that this winter is not unusual compared with history, this latest storm is also consistent with the theory that the climate is insignificantly affected by mankind. The same goes for weather events of other kinds.

It goes for non-events, too. Ever notice how talk of climate change always devolves to the apocalyptic? Floods! Droughts! Floods and droughts simultaneously! Windstorms! Deadly hurricanes! Heat waves! Democrats voting republican! One horror after another. This despite all historical and paleoclimatic evidence that warmer times were better, at least in terms biological.

Why won’t global warming be responsible for a “dramatic” increase in pleasant sunny afternoons? How come we won’t see an “unprecedented” number of warm, laconic evenings? Why won’t there be an “inconvenient” rise in bountiful harvests?

One reason folks like we (me and the regular crew here) are suspicious of global warming public scientists, activists, and miscellaneous proponents is because of their constant sourpuss attitude, their constant predictions of doom, their propensity to focus solely on the negative. They might even be right about all that, but when they tack on suggestions of how the rest of us should live our lives—which usually means surrendering freedom or money or both to government—we feel the winds blowing, all right. We also start feeling for our wallets.

New York City Democrats Remove Yet Another Right: No Smoking In Parks

The party that ever has “Rights!” on its lips, the party with the mania about diversity, the party that is most anxious that religious fundamentalists will take over and impose their puritanical wills on the rest of us, the party whose members remind us constantly of the dangers of the government meddling in our personal lives has, in a fit holy self righteousness, taken away yet another right, decreased diversity, imposed its puritanical will on the rest of us, and has used the law to meddle in our personal lives once more.

New York City Council Democrats have voted to ban smoking in city parks, beaches, pools, boardwalks, and, if it can be believed, marinas. Mayor Bloomberg, a man with much money and therefore with a near infinite belief in his infallibility, has said he will sign the new restrictions, and will do so with a smile on his face. One imagines it will resemble that of the Grinch’s.

Why did they take away the right to smoke in public? According to Speaker Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat, “The statistics don’t lie: second hand smoke kills. With this bill, all New Yorkers can now breathe easier and breathe cleaner air.” My dear lady, as a statistician I can tell you that if this is what the statistics are saying, then they are lying. A nasty habit, but one not unfamiliar to most statistics.

No council member mentioned that residents will still breath air polluted from tens of thousands of cars of which, even just one vehicle, in a single sight-seeing trip across our narrow isle, will pump out more “carcinogens” than an inveterate smoker can do in a week. Perhaps we should keep quiet about this, lest the government get ideas.

Another council member, Democrat Gale Brewer, said of her part in restricting her constituents’ behavior, that her vote “will help New Yorkers become healthier.” Ah, health. The modern be all and end all. This strange and recent worship of body is present perhaps because of the feminization of politics, or perhaps it is because of the increase of mothers and mamma’s boys (Bloomberg?) elected to office, or perhaps it is because of increasing secularization which teaches this is it!: miss your chance to be healthy now, and you miss out for all eternity.

You’re tired of seeing this, but it is my duty to remind you of the words of Mark Twain, a man surely wiser than Gale Brewer (D):

There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.

All of us are willing to trade health for other benefits. This must be so because people regularly strap themselves to two-ton SUVs and hurtle their persons down crowded highways that lead to cabins on lakes, whereupon are found boats which trail ropes that are gripped by the SUV drivers with wooden slats tied to their feet. All this pleasure is purchased at the price of the likelihood of injury, even death.

Life is for living, not for crouching behind doors in fear and paranoia that something might—just maybe!—damage our health. This is important to acknowledge because we must never forget that this country once before lost its mind and wrote into its very constitution an amendment forcing health upon those who didn’t want it. If it happened before, it can happen again.

Now, the City Council, in its wisdom, graced its new law with a loophole which allows “actors in theatrical performances” to smoke where they like. Thus, when you are stopped for indulging tell the parks officer that you are rehearsing a play by La Rochefoucauld, and quote to him—by all means, with flair and through a cloud of smoke—”Attention to health is life greatest hindrance.”

Incidentally, unlike those epidemiologists who have received cash and free trips to exotic locales to write their papers and present their results damning second-hand smoke, I have never received anything—no money, no free smokes, no consideration of any kind—from any tobacco company, nor, to my knowledge, from any company even tangentially connected to a tobacco company. I do not smoke cigarettes and never have. This new law limiting freedom will scarcely effect me.