Say Eyjafjallajokull three times fast. I wish I could say it once. I’ve heard it in so many different forms since it blew its stack that I can’t be sure how its pronounced.
But pop off it did, spewing, as volcanoes are wont, a mass of tephra, gas, and other nastiness into the atmosphere.
You’ll have already heard that the extra-state bureaucrats that run Europe closed down the air space over that continent. This was probably wise immediately after the eruption.
But the closure order was allowed to linger, stranding many and costing much. Airlines complained, as you’d expect them to; some flew test flights to show all was well. Angry voices were raised.
The question is: why did EU bureaucrats maintain the impenetrability of their air space so long?
According to Christopher Booker it was because of an “over-reliance on an inadequate computer model”.
Here’s the meat (emphasis mine):
Within two days, the amount of ash over northern Europe was at barely one per cent of the official danger level. But the authorities were locked by international rules into a rigid bureaucratic system, based on a computer model, which gave them no alternative but to close down air traffic for days longer than was justified. The real flaw in the system was that it made no provision for testing that crude computer model against actual real-life data, which could have shown that the computer was vastly exaggerating the risk.
Having to fit together a jigsaw puzzle of non-interlocking bureaucracies did not help:
Responsibility for responding to the Icelandic eruption lay with a bewildering hierarchy of national and international authorities, starting at the top with a UN body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), working down through the European Commission and Eurocontrol (which is not part of the EU), to national agencies, such as our own Civil Aviation Authority, the National Air Traffic Service and, last but not least, the UK Met Office, owners of the relevant computer model.
In music, a particularly lovely or revealing theme always bears repeating. So it is in prose: our betters who run the EU made no provision for testing that crude computer model against actual real-life data.
I’m tempted to, in the modern musical style of repeating a phrase ad nauseum, cut and paste this statement until it is pounding in your head. For it tells us all we need to know about what’s wrong with governments that wants to rule us via reliance on superior brain power.
The idea of creating a model of volcanic particle dispersion is sound, interesting, and valuable. The fact of foisting it untested on a people as the deciding factor in governmental decisions is silly.
Undoubtedly, the scientists who coded the model, who drew up its equations describing the gentle curves of air flow, love their creation. They would hate to hear anybody call her “ugly” or “useless.”
Their reaction, upon hearing these slights and slurs, would be, as it always is with jealous lovers, to strike back. “We are scientists!” they would say, “With PhDs. We work hard; we can integrate manifolds blindfolded; we work hard. Our model has been peer-reviewed and all of us find her beautiful!”
And they would also say, “Our model runs on a computer!” Gasp!
These chants—so-called because they work as well as any incantation—cause bureaucrats to cower and defer. “Those scientists are smarter than we; therefore, we must not question them” is their cloak. Pulling intellectual rank works better than holy water on a vampire.
I have not seen every rule and regulation that the agglomeration of European government agencies have created to lord over commercial air travel, but I would bet $5,000 at even odds that nowhere is there a proviso that says something like, “In order to be considered reliable, all models will be tested on independent data and demonstrated to be skillful.”
Where, as always, “independent data” is defined to mean data that was not used in any way in the design or testing of the model.
And so we consider Cap & Trade & Tax & Spend—now on hold because the Obama administration wants to stir up leftist sentiment over immigration as a means to stop the bleeding of Democrat votes.
Do we ever hear how, if Cap & Trade is implemented, it will be phased out if the models turn out to be in error? The creators of climate models are so sure of themselves that the mere thought of error is anathema, heretical.
But do all models speak ex cathedra? Not hardly. Yet since most are convinced that “things are worse than we thought” these laws may be inflicted upon us.
We should insist that a cut-off switch be grafted onto them. This is an appealing political tactic. When passage appears inevitable ask for the commonsense inclusion of tests of model validity.
Insist that the laws automatically expire if the temperature of the Earth (suitably defined) does not increase, or the models lack skill.
There are no reasonable objections to this request.