William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Heartland conference: day 2

In the morning, there were enormous piles of bacon, which is, as all competent doctor’s should recommend, the best way to start a day.

Robert Balling of Arizona State gave the coffee talk, emphasizing measurement error and uncertainty overall, and with observation stations in particular. He showed how the IPCC reports, through time, gently acknowledged other sources of climate forcing, like sulfates, burning biomass, irradiance, land use changes, etc. This is in line with what I’m also harping about: people are too certain all the time.

Ross McKitrick went over a paper he and P. Michaels did on adjusting observation stations for such things as population size etc. It was a fairly standard econometric model applied to observational data. This is a vast improvement over the regular method and just the right thing to do, for a start. Individual stations should not be adjusted and then entered into the record, they should be modeled as part of an overall system, and then we can look at the overall system to see if changes are taking place. This is too vague, I know. I’ll have to write about this later.

There were several concurrent sessions after this, like many conferences, and you had to pick one. I choose one with David Douglas from U. Rochester. What I liked about his talk is that she showed the temperature of the earth through time. And I mean all of it: from a little over 4 billion years ago to now. This is the complete-record way to do things. He then showed the temps at time scales closer and closer to daily life. All of which proved a point: we do not appreciate the actual variability of temperatures on this planet.

Christopher Monckton batted next. His talk was mixed politics/science and I wish he had more time to talk about his estimates of climate sensitivity. This was the real meat of the talk, and his original work, but he had to rush through it and I didn’t assimilate most of it except to note that the IPCC overestimated the sensitivity. He made the valid point that we “cannot falsify [the IPCC] equations because they haven’t said how they’ve done them.” He also slipped in a pun, unintentional I think, and nobody caught it. He called a certain gentleman a “stellar solar scientist.”

I gave my hurricane talk in the afternoon. Luckily, right after lunch, which generously allowed people time to nap and digest their meals. Hardly anybody walked out on me, so I consider it a great success.

Joel Schwartz, of the American Enterprise Institute, gave an interesting talk following the course of some papers of ozone and global warming. Several of these peer-reviewed papers modeled ozone into the future using observed concentrations from 1996. Which sounds fine, except that the papers were written in the mid-2000s and could have used concentrations of ozone which were less than 1996. Ozone had been on a decades-long descent which was strangely unacknowledged in any of these papers.

As I was coming out of a session, some people from Titan TV grabbed me for an interview. I didn’t know who they were until after the interview was over and I got back to my computer to Google them. The reporter was a guy in his lesser 30s, and I had the idea I disappointed him by not being dogmatic on any of the questions he asked me. For example, he asked me, RE: global warming, am I a “glass half full or half empty” kind of guy. I had no idea how to answer this, except to say what I always do, “It is a trivial fact that humans influence their environment, hence their climate. It is only a question of how much, and is it harmful, and if so, how much can we mitigate it.” Wishy washy sounding, I guess. He also thought it was ironic that today’s high was in the 50s, to which I said, disappointing him again, that it wasn’t that unusual.

Only a half day tomorrow. Stay tuned.


  1. Given what I’ve heard of Monckton, I would guess that it was not accidental. He has a pretty dry sense of humor.

    Thanks for the Update.

  2. Never trust an Englishman with a pun. Like Cheney, he never watches where he points the damn thing.

  3. Excellent synopsis. How was the Heart land bacon?

  4. Harold Pierce Jr

    March 4, 2008 at 8:40 am

    You should have asked the reporter, “What’s in the glass?” And you can see where this is going!

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