Turtles All The Way Down

I’ve been watching Climategate 2 slowly beginning to unfold.  On day 3, the sceptics have gone big on it, while the alarmists are playing it all down.

University of East Anglia’s vice-chancellor Edward Acton, who flanked Jones as he addressed journalists, predicted less of a storm this time around.

“There’s is so much deja vu about it,” Acton said.

So, if it’s no big deal, why is the university’s vice-chancellor standing shoulder to shoulder with Prof Phil Jones as he faces the press? And did the vice-chancellor really say, “There’s is”? If this is deja vu all over again, why is Phil Jones bothering to talk to the press? Have they even read all the emails yet? I suppose they must have, since they sent them in the first place.

Perhaps the most damning email, as far as Phil Jones is concerned, is the one in which he admits he can’t use Excel:

I keep on seeing people saying this same stupid thing. I’m not adept enough (totally inept) with excel to do this now as no-one who knows how to is here.

What you have to do is to take the numbers in column C (the years) and then those in D (the anomalies for each year), plot them and then work out the linear trend. The slope is upwards. I had someone do this in early 2006, and the trend was upwards then. It will be now. Trend won’t be statistically significant, but the trend is up.

I never use Excel – I’d probably write the code in Java, or maybe R -, but it can’t be that difficult to do. It’s just a matter of plotting the temperature anomalies against the years, and finding if the regression line through these points goes upwards or downwards. It probably only takes a couple of minutes. It’s hardly rocket science.

The worst of it is that it seems like nobody else seemed to know how to do it either. It makes you wonder what they can do. And it makes it crystal clear how a mathematician like Steve McIntyre has been able to tear up so much of their work (e.g. the hockey stick).

I read a sympathetic comment somewhere (probably Climate Audit) that suggested that a lot of university Climate Science departments used to be Geography departments, and geographers usually aren’t required to have much in the way of mathematical skills. That would certainly explain it, but it wouldn’t explain why people who’re dealing every day with temperature records apparently haven’t taken the trouble to develop a few mathematical skills – particularly when they’re making some pretty extraordinary claims about what’s happening with climate.

And if, in the spirit of academic solidarity, the university is going to stand by their climate science department, you have to ask why the university hadn’t checked beforehand whether the guys there knew what they were doing.

In another put-down, somebody else wrote:

Opinion: Snippets of stolen emails cannot make the Earth flat

Here is what we know: The Earth is round, smoking is linked to lung cancer, and humans are changing the climate by emitting massive amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other gases. Like extra blankets at night, those emissions are warming the planet.

Why is it that being sceptical about global warming claims is regarded as just like doubting that smoking causes lung cancer, or that the earth is round?

Well, I’ve been getting pretty sceptical that smoking causes lung cancer. And these days I’m wondering whether growing scepticism about global warming might get a few people to take another look at all the various charges that are laid at the door of tobacco. Anthony Watts, the proprietor of Watts Up With That, lost both of his parents to lung cancer, and believes that smoking was the cause. But even he was derisive about making this link:

The phrase about smoking and lung cancer is right out of the slimer playbook championed by people like Romm and Gore, who have used such tactics before. The only purpose for it being there is to tar people you disagree with a broad brush.

In fact, I’m getting so sceptical about climate science and tobacco research (I wonder if Stanton Glantz knows how to use Excel?) and almost all other research that I even started to wonder today whether the earth actually was round. After all, how do we know for sure?

I mean, how do I know that the earth is round, apart from having read it in books and stuff? Maybe those books were written by the likes of Phil Jones and Stanton Glantz? Maybe the earth really is flat, and there’s an elephant holding up each corner, and standing on the back of a giant turtle (and below that it’s turtles all the way down).

It’s no good me pointing to my own (rather clunky) simulation model of the solar system, which has a spinning spherical earth in it: a computer model is a representation of reality, and not reality itself. It’s not evidence. Nor is it any good someone showing me a photo of the earth taken from outer space, showing it to be round: I’ve never been into space and seen it for myself.

I think that maybe the best evidence, that I’ve seen with my own two eyes, was back when I flew to Japan a few years back, and looking out of my cabin window over Russia the horizon was distinctly curved. If you get high enough, you can see the curvature of the earth a bit like astronauts can.

Another piece of evidence, that I’ve also seen with my own eyes, is when ships go hull down over the horizon, and all you can see is their superstructure. But you really need a telescope to see it clearly.

All the same, it seems like it was only two or three thousand years ago that humans somehow figured out that they were living on a spherical rather than a flat earth (which is what it certainly looks like at ground level). How did they do that, without having flown a few miles above the earth or looked through telescopes at distant ships? As best I understand it, they noticed that the further south they went (i.e. towards the terrestrial equator) the shorter was the shadow cast by the noon sun from a vertical pole. And so what they did was to measure the length of the shadow on the same day in different cities, the distance between which was known pretty accurately. And given all these measurements, they sat down to figure out what single explanation could account for the numbers they’d got. At first, they tried out a flat earth model, but they couldn’t explain it that way. The only explanation that fitted the data, they eventually found, was if the poles were sticking out of a spherical earth, and the sun was a hell of a long way away.

I bet that seemed like a really crazy idea in Athens or Miletus or wherever it was first set out. I bet it was a big talking point at dinner parties, with people sticking wooden pegs into lumps of dough, and holding candles near them, and saying, “Nah. It’s bollocks. If the earth was round, we’d all fall off it.” They’d question the data and the underlying assumptions. How do you know which way is north and south? Are you sure that sunlight travels in straight lines? How do you accurately know the distance from Thebes to Memphis? And that the poles casting the shadows were perfectly upright? And that the measurements were made on the exact same day?

I suspect that people were very divided over this, and that it took quite a long time for it to be accepted. Maybe one thing that helped convince people was when it was found that, just as the spherical model predicted (and the flat earth model did not), if you went far enough south, the shadows cast by the poles flipped from pointing north to pointing south. And that if you went far enough north, to Ultima Thule, sometimes the sun never set at all, but just went round and round the sky just above the horizon.

It’s not stupid for people to have believed that the earth was flat. In fact, it was the simplest explanation. It was just one that had to be abandoned when the evidence started piling up that it was wrong. It wasn’t stupid for people to have continued to be sceptical that the earth was round either. Just because some so-called philosopher or mathematician from Corinth or Delphi says it’s round, doesn’t make it so. Heck, a lot of these guys wouldn’t know how to bake a loaf of bread, never mind measure the earth.

About Frank Davis

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Turtles All The Way Down

  1. Rose says:

    “It’s not stupid for people to have believed that the earth was flat. In fact, it was the simplest explanation. It was just one that had to be abandoned when the evidence started piling up that it was wrong.”

    A particular delight was once reading Henry Cornelius Agrippa, because I’d heard that there were extracts from Pliny on natural history and ancient theories on the properties of stones and metals.
    (When I decide to make some jewellery, I don’t do things by halves)
    The charm was in reading perfectly feasible theories on how things worked,knowing that centuries of science had proved them completely wrong, but still brilliant nonetheless.

    Today’s baseless and contorted theory –

    Why does the BHF appear to think that it should have jurisdiction over my car?

    BHF – The hard road to a smoking ban in cars

    “An infringement of civil liberties or vital protection for children’s health, BHF’s policy officer Joseph Clift unpicks the debate.

    A man’s home is his castle. Although perhaps that should be extended to his car given the furious reaction in some quarters of the public and media to proposals by the British Medical Association (BMA) to ban drivers from lighting up.”

    “The passionate objections we hear today are familiar to the ones heard before the ban on smoking in pubs was brought in. Since it came into effect across the UK in 2007, clearing the clouds of cigarette smoke from pubs and restaurants has proven very popular with the general public.”

    So popular that they are shutting down all over the country.

    I don’t smoke and drive, nor do I use the radio or a satnav as I memorise the route,if I have a passenger, I don’t look at them when we talk. I am very aware of the huge responsibilty of piloting a heavy lump of metal at speed.

    But I do park up to take a break as recommended and relax with a cigarette, not infrequently, sitting on the edge of the seat with the door open.

    So how much do you want to fine me for that Mr/Mrs/Ms British Heart Foundation?

    How sinister these organisations that we once considered as charitable have become.

  2. Ah Frank you said ” I’d probably write the code in Java, or maybe R. ” A wee functional spec maybe winging its way down to you over the weekend.

    I assume with J2EE you can show a curve? The problem with Excel is that you appear not to be able to use one but up to a near infinite number of straight lines.

    • Frank Davis says:

      R has a regression function which I’ve used a few times (somewhere in my blog). I don’t know how it works, but it draws a pretty plausible straight line through a set of points.

      If I was to write some code to do this myself, I would suppose that there was a single line which passed closest to all the points. The problem then would be to find this one single line in the all the infinite numbers of lines that could be drawn through the points. So I’d probably write a bit of code which found the mean distance of all points from a line, and draw a few random lines, and pick the ones which had the lowest mean distance, and use them as the basis for a further more narrowly focused search. I might have several lines of inquiry on the go at the same time. And so on until the one line (or something very near it) was found.

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    I took basic fortran and cobalt years ago,gave it up to the programmers and I stayed on the troubleshooting to component level part of electronics and installation in electrical equipment. Not much I cant fix except programs,I hate programming!

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Cows absolved of causing global warming with nitrous oxide
    Livestock could actually be good for the environment according to a new study that found grazing cows or sheep can cut emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas.

    In the past environmentalists, from Lord Stern to Sir Paul McCartney, have urged people to stop eating meat because the methane produced by cattle causes global warming.

    youve got to see the pic of the EXPERIMENTAL COW

  5. Gary K. says:

    “I even started to wonder today whether the earth actually was round. After all, how do we know for sure?”

    I do not know about the Earth; but, most of all else that I perceive is by sight and our sight is notorious for being easy to deceive.

    Optical Illusions are amusing; but, their commonality should cause us to have doubts about what is ‘really’ real!!!

    I am very fond of those things; as, they remind me to be very cautious about the grand headlines that I see.

    One of my favorites is the way a brown tille appears brown in the light; but, white when it is seen in the dark shadows.

    • Gary K. says:

      This is what I refer to.


      Number also can be deceiving.
      If you flip a coin it has a 50/50 probability for heads or tails.

      But; if you flip two coins at the same time,and ! comes up heads, there is only a 25% probability the second will come up a heads.

      You would think the second coin has a 50/50 chance for heads; but, flipping two heads at the same time is only 1 out of 4 possible outcomes and the second coin(once the first is revealed as heads) has only a 25% chance of being a heads.

      • junican says:

        Re-think that, GK. Once the first is revealed as heads, the second coin has a 50/50 chance of being heads. The 25% chance occurs while the coins are in the air! Innnit?

      • Gary K. says:

        Here is a neat illusion involving tables.

        ‘in the air’,covered, unrevealed, unknown or whatever.
        You could even flip same coin twice and have the same probability.

        This seems impossible since a coin would seem to have the 50/50 chance on each flip; but, the out comes do not lie.

        2 flips have only 4 outcomes:
        HH,TT, HT, or TH.
        2 heads is only 1/4th of the outcomes. So once you have a heads, there is only a 25% chance on the 2nd flip.

      • Gary K. says:

        This should be a couple of posts down.

        With two coins, you are talking about group probability and that seems to over-ride the individual chances.

      • Frank Davis says:

        2 flips have only 4 outcomes:
        HH,TT, HT, or TH.
        2 heads is only 1/4th of the outcomes. So once you have a heads, there is only a 25% chance on the 2nd flip.

        Equally, once you don’t have a tails, there’s no possibility of TH or TT. The only remaining possibilities are HH or HT, and the probability of each of these is 1/2.

        Whenever you flip a coin, unless the coin is loaded in some way, the probability of it turning up H or T is always 1/2, regardless of what came before or after or during.

  6. Jonathan Bagley says:

    To be fair, the comment was, “smoking is linked to lung cancer”, which is true; not that it causes it. Where there has been less smoking, there is generally less lung cancer. The Swedish male population is a good example. Yes, there are anomalies, such as Japan, but there is definitely a link. The commenter should be given credit for using precise language.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Im noticing more and more the use of the term ”LINK” rather than causes any many only stories!

      Ive been challenging the causes claim everywhere online against anyone that breaths it causes.

      Next the surgeon generals causal effect should be debated and shown for the biological implausability it actually represents! Microscope proof is what most people think when they hear the ” it causes” ONE LINER not epidemiology says!

    • Gary K. says:

      ” the comment was, “smoking is linked to lung cancer”, which is true; not that it causes it.”

      Actually, such a statement has NO real meaning at all.

      Such a statement provides NO real information at all.

      A valid,meaningful statement would be something like this:
      ” Lung Cancer is associated/linked with old age; because, 70% of the lung cancer deaths occur to people that are aged 65 or older and there are almost ZERO lung Cancer deaths below the age of 45.”

    • Frank Davis says:

      You’re quite right, and I knew it when I wrote it. But by “linked to”, they really covertly mean “causes”. Their constant aim has been to associate or relate lung cancer with smoking, as in “smoking-related” disease. So I’m unapologetic about converting “linked to” to “causes”. And as I replied to Harleyrider (below?) the same message is sent simply by saying “smoking rhymes with lung cancer”.

    • junican says:

      I don’t think that it is right to explain away the Japan situation simply as ‘an anomaly’. Until epidemiologists know why the millions of people in Japan smoke more but have less lung cancer, the statement that smoking ’causes’ lung cancer cannot be said to be in any way reliable.

      “Smoking is linked to lung cancer” is about as imprecise as you can get without saying it at all.

      But you are right to point out that he did not say ’causes’.

      • Gary K. says:

        ““Smoking is linked to lung cancer” is about as imprecise as you can get without saying it at all.”

        Indeed,very true.
        The question that is never asked by the media is: “How close is the link?”

        They will answer that smokers(implying active smokers) are responsible for 82% of the yearly lung cancer death rate.

        But; this number includes ex-smokers,61% of those deaths, and they are a separate consideration.

        Current smokers are 20% of the adult population and the CDC(USA) says thay account for 20.9% of the yearly lung cancer deaths.

        WHAT THE HELL, you would expect 20% of the adults to account for about 20% of the lung cancer deaths!!!

        They are saying there is a “linkage’ because smokers die from lung cancer!!!!!

  7. smokervoter says:

    Forgive me, for this OT comment belongs with your EU postings and Idle Theory, but the topic is making the rounds in my head right now and spilling out over the keyboard.

    Italy is being battered by the ever frustrating Acceleration Principle. It’s decennium 0.3 economic growth rate, partly the result of a reluctance to overpopulate its premises, is paying off in negative dividends. Italians are in violation of its tenet that “consumption has to continue to keep rising at the same speed for investment to stand still.”

    When my town grew like a weed during the 80’s, my bank account benefitted as a carpenter but my quality of life suffered as an ordinary citizen. A fifteen minute commute doubled, long queues for everything became the norm and farmlands were paved over and replaced with the tacky buildings I helped erect.

    I don’t want to sound anti-human here, but I wouldn’t last one week in Mumbai or Shanghai. It’s the marginal utility thing that kicks in at a certain population density for me. A happy medium would be nice but, unhappily, the acceleration principle seems inviolable.

    The rule seems to be reproduce like rabbits or perish. I sometimes think that, ultimately, Malthus might be proven right.

  8. nisakiman says:

    Looks like they are backtracking a bit now.


    And on the BBC site, too! Gawd, I bet they gagged on that article as they were publishing it!

    • Brigitte says:

      Unfortunately the BBC has as yet not explained nor apologised:

      The BMA issued a correction on Thursday retracting the claim that research showed the levels of toxins in a car can be up to 23 times higher than in a smoky bar. Instead it said the risk in a car was 11 times greater. A spokeswoman said the mistake was due to human error, and it had made the amendment after becoming aware there was other research that disputed their original figure.

      Actual correction:

      Please note, there is an error in the BMA briefing paper: Smoking in vehicles. On page 4, in the 3rd paragraph, the following sentence is incorrect:

      “Further studies demonstrate that the concentration of toxins in a smoke-filled vehicle is 23 times greater than that of a smoky bar, even under realistic ventilation conditions”. a, 17, 18, 19

      THIS SENTENCE HAS BEEN REPLACED WITH: “Further studies demonstrate that the concentration of toxins in a smoke-filled vehicle could be up to 11 times greater than that of a smoky bar”. a, 17, 18, 19

      We apologise for this error.”

      Wouldn’t it be nice to to get them gagging again?

  9. Mr A says:

    10 Mr A is ace!
    20 Go to 10

    Anything beyond that is sadly beyond my programming abilities.

  10. Mr A says:

    And that’s probably wrong…

    • Fredrik Eich says:

      Not far off Mr A!
      from memory I would have thought more like

      10 print “Mr A is ace”
      20 goto 10

      these days it would be something like

      System.out.println(“Mr A is ace!”);

  11. Jax says:

    I think it’s a bit Freudian that this climate-change enthusiast chooses to link a lack of belief in the smoking/lung cancer link and a lack of belief in the AGW theory. I think that he knows full well that the Climate Change camp have adopted very, very similar tactics to the anti-smoking camp, so that the two are inextricably linked in his mind – such that even opposers to each theory are lumped together, too.

    Personally, I think he’d have done better to have kept the two separate – after all, there are plenty of people around who are sceptical about AGW but totally convinced about the smoking/lung cancer link, so it’s perhaps more likely to sow seeds of doubt in their minds about the validity of anti-smoking rhetoric than it is to persuade them of the rightness of the AGW variety.

    And I’ve never quite been certain about the use of the term “flat earthers” (or the implication of the term “flat earthers,” as in this article) as a rebuff towards people who disagree with a particular viewpoint which its adherents insist that “everybody knows” is true. For isn’t it the case that in days of yore it was the “flat earthers” who held the majority view (well, “everybody knew” that the earth was flat, didn’t they, because they could see it for themselves), and the views of the “round earthers” which were regarded as a bit wacky and off-the-wall? And, er, just remind me again – which group was it, ultimately, who were proven to be right???

    • Frank Davis says:

      it’s perhaps more likely to sow seeds of doubt in their minds about the validity of anti-smoking rhetoric than it is to persuade them of the rightness of the AGW variety.

      This is what I hope.

  12. harleyrider1978 says:

    Weve seen politics using junk science to get their ways. Their end play is to further their polical ideologies for whatever they are ie,socialism. SHS,GW,war on obesity all created scams to push what socialized medicine and to control economics,force people to live within prescribed parameters of life as the powers to be dictate. In essence the march towards a new NAZISM!

  13. Gary K. says:

    Here is an illusion from Bristol that shows that perception is not always reality.


  14. harleyrider1978 says:


    Macedonian parliament fined for smoking

    11/25/2011 – 8:34:05 PM

    State smoking inspectors have fined Macedonia’s parliament after a raid found overflowing ashtrays on the premises – but no illicit smokers.

    The country’s labour inspectorate said in a statement that in addition to a €5,000 fine it had ordered the assembly’s lounge and restaurant to close for two weeks over breaches of an indoor smoking ban.

    The statement said inspectors found used ashtrays in parts of the building used by MPs and parliament staff, but caught nobody puffing away.

    Since the beginning of 2010, Macedonia has banned smoking in all public places, including outside establishments serving food or drinks.

  15. harleyrider1978 says:

    Personal responsibility can have a profound effect!

    Ive been doing charitable euthenasias and sterilizations for quite sometime. The SPCA doesnt have a patent on euthenizing unwanted pets,I have saved the taxpayers thousands of dollars thru my efforts over the last 30 years! SPCA gets on average 35 bucks per euthenized animal,my costs are minimal at around 5 cents per 22 caliber round. Then I recyle the euthenized animal into fertilizer for my tobacco patch,there by saving expenditures to the big fertilizer companies and further stopping global warming from less animals to exhale CO2 gases and methane release.

    Now does anybody need some redneck lifo-suction my buck knife and hoover cleaner are at the ready!

  16. Walt says:

    Why do I think shooting dogs and cats isn’t something to brag about?

No need to log in

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.