Friday, October 24, 2014

Confident Idiots


One of the privileges of being an old bunny is that you get to sit in a whole lot of medical and dental offices and read the odd piece of literature that is lying about, assuming there is no wifi.  So Eli was sitting in his endodontic dentist's office (the good ones are the champ anal-obsessives on Earth, which the bunnies will know if they ever had a root canal) and he grabbed something with a guy in a dunce cap on the cover and the headline and if the bunnies look real close, the author of the headline article is David Dunning of Dunning Kruger.  Information may have an urge to be free but publishers don't see it that way.  The interested may have to purchase the magazine, because it does not look like it will be made easily available

Justin Kruger was the graduate student  whose work has become half of a blogbyword and the original can be found on line, in 97 copies more or less.  Eli would be surprised if a friend of his has not read all of them. . . .
 
Dunning, is not full of sunshine on the issue

Kruger  and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize -- scratch that, cannot recognize -- just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight:  for poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack.  To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent.  Poor performers -- and we are all poor performers at some things -- fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. 
What's curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious.  Instead the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge
To Eli, self awareness, knowing when to listen to others is a great and hard won gift.  Also knowing when to ignore them, but that is the same thing.  Dunning has studied the unaware for a long time
An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that's filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.  This clutter is an unfortunate by product of one of our greatest strengths as a species.  We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers.  Often our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to the age when we can procreate.
The most difficult problem is when a person's subjective world view corresponds to their fantasies.  Dunning is more than a little bit pessimistic about whether there is anything to be done about this.  Education, e.g. exposing people to information which conflicts with their world view does not work well, especially when the INTERNET cacophony is shouting in the other ear.
 If repeating the misbelief is absolutely necessary, researchers have found it helps to provide clear and repeated warnings that the misblief is false.  I repeat false.
One thing, according to Dunning, that does work is to show that the clutter contradicts the believers world view in some way, for example that care for the Earth is central to religious belief.  Another is to massage the self worth of the clutteree before discussing reality with them.  Dunning closes by pointing out that wisdom is knowing one's limits.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I'm Sorry, So Sorry




Now that everybunny and weasel has had their say about the twitter dustup at the Royal Society Meeting on arctic sea ice Eli feels compelled to leave the building.  As to taking a position, the Rabett is closest to Victor Venema,
I do understand that the speaker feels like people are talking behind his back. He is not on twitter and even if he were: you cannot speak and tweet simultaneously. Yes, people do the same on the conference floors and in bars, but then you at least do not notice it. For balance it should be noted that there was also plenty of critique given after the talk; that people were not convinced was thus not behind his back.
tweeting from a meeting is perilous, not really necessary, and the heat of the tweet, can lead to hurt feelings. In this case Prof. Wadhams was excised, enough that he formally complained to the Royal Society.   Wadhams, of course, made a fool of himself by going after one of the tweeters, Gavin Schmidt, not only getting Gavin's position wrong, but in his complaint, misspelling the name of the NASA Administrator, Chuck Boulden
“To: Maj.-Gen. Charles F. Brandell,Jr.
Administrator, NASA”
That must have gone down a treat especially when Gavin puts the polite knife in pointing out the mistake.  Our Gavin and friends then responded with a detailed fisking.  Stoat put it fine
A combo of the death cycle and the methane, coupled with a not-understanding-social-media, leads to… Well, I’ll point you to Reply to letter & email from Prof Peter Wadhams, dated 28 September 2014, and subsequent email from Prof Wadhams, dated 30 September 2014, concerning the use of Twitter during a recent Royal Society Arctic Sea Ice meeting and also the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION Complaint to Royal Society about social media use at the discussion meeting: Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts which you should go off and read. Back? Jolly good.
Much of the back and forth concerned whether Wadhams was off his nut or not and whether the tweets were beyond the pale, but to Eli this misses the point.

There are two kinds of apologies.  The first is Eli was wrong and you were right Eli apologizes.  Never happens of course because Eli is never wrong, or at least not very often.  The other is dear Ms. Rabett, Eli never meant to hurt you and is deeply sorry.  He apologizes and will try and make up for that.  Often happens. 

From this one concludes that Gavin Schmidt, Sheldon Bacon and Mark Brandon are not deeply in love with Peter Wadham, or have much respect for his opinions on arctic sea ice.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch Has Died


Word comes that Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch has died.  It is one of the sadnesses of living to watch those you like and respect die.  In a strange way Rick left his statement of being at Climate Science Watch just before he went into the hospital, responding to one of the usual suspects who was trying a double Dunning-Kruger with backflips, just the sort of thing Rick hated:
"I did my graduate study in political science and my undergraduate in experimental psychology, at Michigan, long ago. I listen to leading climate scientists, I know leading climate scientists. I would never pass myself off as one.  
I have been focused first and foremost on the problem of global warming and climatic disruption since Jim Hansen testified in 1988. I came to that interest, as with other environmental, natural resource, and energy issues I have worked on for the past 35 years, primarily from the policy side. I spent four years on the professional staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and 10 years in a senior staff position in the U.S. Global Change Research Program Coordination Office here in Washington (that's the $2 billion multiagency program that supports the research and observing systems on climate and global change).  
During those years I became very attuned to what I came to refer to as the "collision" between the world of climate science and the realities of Washington politics. I saw how politicians in Washington used, misused, and denied what scientists were telling them, and how difficult it was to make this essential communication channel function productively.  
So at this point I know considerably more science than most people in the arena of policy and politics, and more about the latter than most scientists. My project, and whatever contribution it makes, is primarily aimed at government accountability in national policymaking. I have an analysis and an approach for doing that, and Climate Science Watch is the vehicle via which I and various collaborators express that.  
At this point, I think the discourse about climate change, certainly at the power elite level, is shifting, or has shifted, from what we might call the science-policy nexus, toward questions about economics, business, politics, energy policy, national security planning, and so forth. I can deal with that and that's where our attention is moving, I think.  
Of course there are many important scientific questions about the physical climate system to research, and I spent quite a few years doing what I could to encourage bipartisan support for a strong research program, regardless of people's policy disagreements. But this is not a science education and debate site, and the discourse about unresolved research issues on the physical climate system are well-argued in many other venues by people with serious qualifications.
But when Rupert Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal put out a piece with a "take no action" slant on the eve of a big UN climate summit and climate movement rally, I take what the WSJ is doing as essentially a political gesture. They print only 'skeptic' or 'contrarian' pieces, there's no real balance in their coverage, they are trying to frame a political narrative for the corporate elite. When there's an opportunity to post something with an alternative view, that raises questions about what they've published, I can do that. I don't have to be able to resolve the science issues in order to do it."
Rick will be missed.


Winner of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling (2006).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Does Africa Need Telephone Poles

Eli, being Eli, has been excessively annoyed by the trolls at the Breakdown Institute.  True, they are excellent trolls, whose mission in life is to demand the impossible and denigrate the possible, a tried and true tactic if your purpose is to block all progress and, indeed they do appear to be prospering.

But never mind.  If you really must, go read their twitter blather.  Eli enjoys trolling the trolls a bit, and you might too.

However, the real point of this post is to point out that thanks to modern progress there now are cell phones which have made it possible to erect a functioning telecommunications, entertainment, information and banking systems in very rural and very poor areas including the megaslums of third world cities.  Eli would venture so far as to say that we have tools to electrify about every hut on the planet, if, by that you mean a light or two, a cell phone, and smart cell phones are pretty much mainframe computers compared to mainframe computers in the 1970s (remember the 1401 JohnM, first computer Eli ever programmed).  As anybunny walking through the streets or fields knows there is all sorts of educational and entertaining stuff that can be seen through small screens and if you must have a computer there is always as Raspberry PI.

White LEDs and even compact fluorescents have brought down the amount of energy that has to be generated for lighting, and lighting is no small part of what makes life worth living (ask Abraham Lincoln) and of energy use.  That Nobel Prize was well deserved.  Maybe even some refrigeration.  Refrigerators, insulation and compressors have become more effective and there might even be nanohelp for thermoelectrics.  A small solar array, a small windmill, maybe a bigger village windmill and a couple of storage batteries is the way to the good, or at least much better, life.

Which brings Eli to the point, the point, or rather points that one can read in an IEA report on energy use and needs and Africa.  In dense urban areas and even between then telephone poles carrying power from a central distribution system can be the most economical.  However, Eli senses a certain optimism that in very poor areas those poles and the wires on them are going to stay up for long, a point that the report itself makes in describing oil harvesting in the Niger Delta.

Still, once you have to put up a long line to reach a small village, things change radically


and the graph on the left shows by how much.  The graph on the right has a more interesting point for the Lomborg's of the world, who are claiming that Africa needs coal (like a hole in the head, sub-Saharan Africa will be hit harder by climate change than any other area, and even Tol agrees on that, as does just about every other IAM purveyor).  The major cost per MWh of fossil fuel is the cost of the fuel.  The amount of capital needed to build the generator is less than 5% or so.  However, for solar PV, small hydro, and small wind capital costs are more than ~80% of the cost of power, operating costs are maybe the other 20%.  Even now solar and wind are less expensive than fossil fuel, and they will be much less so in the future.  They are orders of magnitude more deployable and not as subject to mayhem.  Moreover, efficient modern lighting, telecommunications, cooling, other conveniences and necessities don't have large power draws.

That means that if anyone, are you there Bjorn, how about you Michael Shellenberger, really wanted to help Africa electrify they would be pushing investment by the developed countries to provide cheap to operate solar PV, small hydro and small wind to African communities, not coal and fossil fuel burning plants with expensive and constant fuel costs and the need of a hard to maintain electrical grid.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Monday, October 06, 2014

Eli Is Happy to Announce

That the San Jose Mercury News has strongly endorsed Brian Schmidt for the Santa Clara Valley Water District 

He is informed, diligent and ethical. And he's not afraid to talk about ideas in public. We like that in a public official.
Eli agrees.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

So David Rose, Tamsin Edwards, and Tony Watts Walk Into Nick Lewis' Bar


is the start of a hilarious joke, yet Eli lacks a punch line.  Sophie Yeo writes of a dinner thrown by Nick Lewis
Twelve scientists and sceptics have met privately to discuss how to suck the venom out of the climate change debate.

It was one of science’s strangest social events to date.
Eli enjoys British arch expressions well put, but hilarity ensues
 Some of the best known names in the climate debate – including Mail on Sunday journalist David Rose, blogger Anthony Watts, and Met Office scientist Richard Betts – shared salmon and civilities at a dinner party last month.
Sou writes daily of Willard Tony's lack of self awareness and Eli's suspicion is that Tamsin Edwards must be a distant descendent of Emile Coue, still, in the face of world class competition David Whitehouse brings the house down in a quote fed to Yeo
“Both sides are really fed up with the outrageous alarmists who are not representing science properly. Both don’t like those who shout about it and call people names and take a polarised point of view,” says David Whitehouse from the sceptic thinktank The Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Eli, Eli is simply not up to dealing with this, so the Bunny outsources to Paul Krugman writing about Nick Lewis' ilk
When the going gets tough, the people losing the argument start whining about civility. I often find myself attacked as someone who believes that anyone with a different opinion is a fool or a knave; as I’ve tried to explain, however, that’s mainly selection bias. I don’t spend much time on areas where reasonable people can disagree, because there are so many important issues where one side really is completely unreasonable.
for example, whether the rise in the airborne fraction of CO2 has been caused by humans.  Still, Krugman is right and he is right when he continues
 Relatedly, obviously someone can disagree with my side and still be a good person. On the other hand, there are a lot of bad people engaged in economic debate — and I don’t mean that they’re wrong, I mean that they argue in bad faith.
Perhaps in this context a word change or two but given the cottage industry in trying to beat back the numerous bad faith arguments made in denial of our changing our only planet and its climate not for the better, the Rabett might point out, why yes, bad faith arguments are everywhere

Illustration looking glassed from Stephen Kade Illustration blog