Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Let's Have Frank Discussion on Climate Change Part 3: The Climatologists Argument

As it stands now the observation is a warming planet. the theories are as follows,

1. that humankinds fossil fuel emissions have produced CO2 forcing the planet to warm and
2. The warming of the planet is predominantly due to natural variation
Now IF you've been paying attention it becomes clear that the theory of CO2 warming the planet can NEVER be verified. We cannot pump or regulate CO2 levels with enough control to test the theory. Therefore any proposals, beliefs or assertions no matter how loudly they are spoken or derisively they are spat are anymore valid than the other sides opinion. By the same token the idea that warming is predominantly due to natural variation can also NEVER be proven. At least not until we obtain a time machine. But scientists are more like engineers than mathematicians so it is our goal to get as close as reasonably possible to an actual result.

So how does each side approximate a solution? well lets begin with the more scientifically and politically popular version. The idea of carbon dioxide inducing warming is not unfounded. It is based on a theory known as the greenhouse gas theory which in turn is based on the absorption of light. This is a known demonstrable phenomenon and can be calculated using the Beer-Lambert equation. In fact this is so reliable we can use this phenomenon to determine concentrations of various chemicals in solutions.

with an explanatory diagram

Most people don't speak math but rearranging the equations lets you see that a unit increase in the concentration increases the amount of light absorbed ten fold. A big thumbs up for the theory. But there's a problem CO2 has an extremely narrow absorption spectrum and that falls out of the range of the incoming radiation to the such effectively all the incoming radiation in that spectral range is absorbed but there isn't much there. But it does fall well within the the spectrum of the outgoing radiation from the earth. a fairly helpful picture.

So there you have it CO2 has some absorption within the normal radiative remission from the earth. That;s an excellent argument and it has solid science and research behind it. Thats where the good science ends and the things start to get fuzzy. See temperature is a function of the energy in a system. It is a function of how much energy is coming and how much energy is leaving. When there is more energy coming in then there is going out the temperature rises, The opposite means the temperature falls, If the system is in equilibrium the temperature is constant. As the radiative energy is absorbed by the CO2 it is passed on to other molecules through collision and is eventually radiated into space.

A traditional energy balance looks like : Accumulation=in-out+generation-consumption

While we can calculate the incoming energy from the sun. It is much more difficult to estimate the energy going out, especially when were trying to estimate the effect of reabsorption. Even if energy is reabsorbed it will still be reemitted, not just some of it all of it. Energy is a loosely defined term so think of it like a fish tank with a hose connected and a hole drilled through the side. You can think of reabsorption as the expansion or change in the fish tank volume. there are two ways the tank volume can change it can grow wider or it can grow taller. If the tank grows taller the water level wont change and volume of water will remain the same. if the tank expands horizontally the height of the water wont change but the volume of water will.

As it stands now we don't know the dimensions of the tank, The volume of water or the flow rate out of the hole, or how the parameters are changing. We are trying to figure those dimensions out but the truth is all we can offer now are estimates. We call these estimate climate sensitivity and there is an incredible amount of debate as to how significant or large the values are. The idea is to reduce the very complex problem of our input/output values to a single value depicting the effect of carbon dioxide on temperature.

Guesstimating these numbers isn't on the table and they aren't simply based on CO2 absorption values. climate temperature is not a single factor there are multiple things that feed into and affect temperature variability. Factors such as cloud cover, or glacier coverage are going to depend on temperature and they in turn are going to affect temperature. These provide what are called feedback effects where an individual variable which is affected by temperature also affects temperature. Some of these factors will increase the climate sensitivity others will decrease climate sensitivity. Much of these estimates and factors are pulled from published literature. Once collected these factors are collected and used in a series of equations attempting to determine the actual course of climate in what we know as climate models.

But once you develop a model how do you test it? Well the easiest answer is look to previous years of temperature data. Assuming that we have a reasonably accurate mathematical interpretation then we should have a relative match with previous temperature records. Then using future projections to simulate some of the variables which are unknowns the model should reasonably predict temperature increases into the future.

Now I feel I have been fair to the believers of AGW. The predictions and methodology currently used is similar to what I'd pursue if I was attempting to answer the questions of significance around climate change. It is intelligent and methodical but this is where the science behind the theory of AGW takes a backseat and the skeptics argument begins.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lets Have a Frank Discussion on Climate Change Part 2: Let's Eliminate the Soap Box

So now that I have laid out my personal viewpoint on climate change lets try to have a reasonable discussion on what we know. We frequently hear that the debate is over or about a scientific consensus. While clearly the debate isn't over what about the scientific consensus.

 In a sample of scientists from all fields there was an absolute consensus in regards to evolution. Some 97% of respondents agree that evolution is the primary means of species differentiation. However in the same study only 86% agree with the belief that man has had an effect on global temperatures. While that is a majority it is not a consensus. I state that using the traditional significance level of around 5% if 95% of scientists agreed then we could say it was a consensus. but as it sits now it doesn't even find significance at the 10% level much less the traditional 5%.

Proponents of the consensus would point out that most dissenting scientists are not climate or atmospheric scientists, and that they tend to come from fields related to geology or engineering. That does not change the fact that evolution seems to find ground among scientists outside of the field of biology. Nor does it take into account that skeptics like myself would have responded yes to the question because it simply asks if there has been an effect. there is no discussion of significance of the effect, Efficacy of environmental proposals, or whether the modern catastrophic theory is entirely correct. So lets put the idea that there is a consensus of pro catastrophic global warming scientist advocates to rest. It doesn't exist and given the timescales that catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) is supposed to play out it is unlikely that there will be a true consensus within our lifetime.

How can scientists who have looked at most of the same data and come to different conclusions. The answer is it has to do with the scientific method and more specifically how it is applied to the soft science fields like climate science or even psychology. To do that we need to bring up the scientific method how it works and why it works and where it differs in these fields.

The traditional scientific method is an actual step by step process.It is as follows
1. make an observation
2. develop theory to explain the observation
3. conceive an experiment to test the theory
4. analyze the experimental data in order to make an observation
5. repeat

According to that procedure we technically are never likely to know the exact truth about reality. There is an engineering joke that explains the scientific methods. A mathematician and an engineer are placed in a psychological experiment they are placed in a room with a beautiful naked and willing woman and the distance between the two is halved every minute. The mathematician is informed of the experimental rules looks at the women and cries that he shall never truly reach her, thus abandoning the experiment. The engineer listens to the rules looks at the woman and takes his position in the experimental room with a smile. The psychologist is perplexed by the engineers response particularly after the mathematician. The engineer looks at the psychologist and simply replies in ten minutes ill be close enough for practical purposes.

This is similar to the scientific method. The idea is that we proceed through this iterative process and in time we arrive at an answer or a solution that closely approximates reality. As long as we get close enough we can use that information to affect ourselves and environment. This approach has allowed the human race to advance farther in the past 200 years than we have in the past 120,000 years that we as a species were on this planet.

The difference between the hard sciences and the soft sciences is the hard sciences stick to this process and the soft sciences play a little bit with the steps particularly the first two. While there is no direct reason why the steps have to be followed in a very specific order it does help to eliminate personal as bias. This difference Explains why fossil fuels were blamed for global cooling 50 years ago and then global warming 20 years later. Its why Carol Gilligan a psychologist published scientific theories that have yet to be proven either by herself her disciples or any actual tests. If you start with a theory you can find or convince yourself that an observation fits that theory.

The second key point of contention is typically in regards to whether or not the theory is falsifiable. In order to be falsifiable the theory must be able to be tested. Both the time frame (effects are expected to be verifiable 50-100 years away) and the nature of the subject (we don't have a weather control machine) means that it is inherently non falsifiable. Any discussion as to the fallout or effects from global warming is assumed based on correlations and literature. Elementary statistics teaches the correlation does not equal causation.

While I and most other scientists acknowledge the inherent challenges associated with the subjects matter we don't feel they get a free pass to make predictions or advise policy without making it abundantly clear that the theories are inherently untestable or verifiable until the appropriate amount of time has elapsed, regardless of the information those theories are based on.

Outside of bias which both of the primary arguments have, and the non falsifiability of any claims regarding the future made for 50-100 years from now, the most common and ironically least credible argument made by both sides revolves around attacking the credibility of your opponents. Arguing that a study or result is less credible because of its source is one of the well known and understood logical fallacies. a list of others can be found here.

In short the idea of attacking your opponent rather than the statements is not the same as defending your arguments or attacking your opponents rhetoric. It is known as an ad hominem attack. Reviewing that list you should honestly take a look at the arguments you have used or fellow supporters have used to defend your stance. Its pretty easy to see that most of the arguments used in the climatological debate are logical fallacies.

Everyone knows that environmentalists are going to support investigations and studies that support their argument and the petrochemical industry is going to finance studies that look into factors that undermine them. that doesn't mean those studies are incorrect. Any theory that does not incorporate contradictory or conflicting arguments is not a scientifically valid argument. In fact contrarian arguments hold much larger sway than do non contrary arguments. It is and always should be easier to disprove a theory than it is to prove one.

The point is that neither side of the debate, particularly the extreme sides are arguing a completely sane or scientifically grounded position. Assuming the opponents are all shills or dismissing their arguments is not just disingenuous to the debate but its actually blatantly wrong. So what we all need to do is sit down and examine the methodology, and the data to try to figure out what to do. We need to acknowledge our inherent biases and understand how effective the technologies were arguing about are. I intend to do this at this blog. Its going to take a large amount of time effort and energy. I will try to be as even handed as possible and not dive too deeply into the body of work that surrounds each argument simply because most people are not scientifically literate enough to make sense of it. So to begin Lets start with the mainstream argument, its methodology and why the approach is used in part 3 of Lets Have a Frank Discussion of Climate Change.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Let's Have a Frank Discussion on Climate Change part 1 Who am I?

In the following post I'm going to try to present a relatively frank and honest presentation from both sides of the climate change argument. I feel its incredibly important and rarely done.  But in order to do this properly iIneed to be honest and upfront in my views. I'm a skeptic of climate change, I wasnt always a skeptic I used to believe the Pro-anthropogenic (meaning man made or man genesis) side of the argument. Prominent scientists said it was real and while my father implored me to look it up for myself I had no reason or real drive to do so. that was until I saw this ad on tv.

Considering this came from the side that was supposed to be rational, scientific and "objective" I was taken aback.  Thats not the only example of course, there's always this gem 

Because if you weren't stirred to action by children then there's always cute fluffy animals. Clearly this is the viewpoint of a well thought out and rational argument. But in case you weren't clear on the issue and the rational objective viewpoint being portrayed theres always this to drive the argument home. 

Like I said I am always a skeptic and the best way to get me to do a 180  degree turn on any stance I have is to attempt to use an emotional plea when claiming your side is supported by science.  I was baffled and perplexed and so I began to look into it.  MY findings have been more theory and less data, there are more pleas to emotional cues be it children or animals or outright fear than verifiable scientific results. Prognostications are made for the future 50-100 years out which are inherently non falsifiable. 

So what does this mean for me politically? Well I don't think we know enough to come even reasonably close to justify the costs of green programs. I don't think that all the claims being made are accurate, in fact many of the mainstream and emotional arguments have in fact been falsified.  but ultimately is there global warming? yes. is it caused mostly or entirely by humans? We dont know. Should we at this time do anything about it? No.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gun Control Nuts, Are they?

Obama's executive actions have been receiving a lot of tread this week. Most of it is the bickering back and forth between gun control proponents and opponents. There has even been a "fact check" stating that Obama's executive orders were not excessive, This is kind of funny considering that is an opinion statement and you cant really fact check an opinion without data. Before I begin I do not believe Obama went overboard with gun executive orders, I measure this factor by comparing what the actions were with what they could have been and the truth is he could have done far more. That's not an endorsement just remember that.

We all remember the statement that driving is a privilege and not a right. The state can take it away if you misbehave. Maybe you heard it when you were learning to drive, or your kids were or maybe a stern discussion after you broke the law. The point is that driving is a privilege which means that it can be taken away by the state when they so choose.

Kind of an important discussion here as this is drastically different than a right, like say the second amendment, which is part of your bill of rights. The second listed right of the constitutions bill of rights which says very clearly, A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of the state, The right of the PEOPLE to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED. See that bolding there its cute right? So whenever you hear a political pundit ask why you need assaults weapons or AR-15's or high velocity rounds or whatever have you the answer that should be shouted back is and always should be, BECAUSE I WANT TO. its as simple as that. See that no infringement sign up there in big bold letters? That is the only justification anyone needs when defending their weapons of choice. 

Because no one,  technically, and I say this in broad strokes, needs a gun. People also don't need TV's, couches, a hot shower, a bed or a roof over their heads. We have them because we want them and SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED is a damn fine enough reason to justify a gun no matter what it looks like. 

What the pundits and gun control proponents are really asking is what practical uses for a gun are there. I can think of four.

1. Hunting
2. Shooting for fun or target practice
3. Self Defense or Defense of your loved ones 
4. Defense against the overreach of a tyrannical government.

Now no one in their right mind is honestly itching for the last two options. I doubt my friends and relatives are anxiously watching the door hoping for an assailant to burst through so they can shoot them. Even with the discontent i don't see people lining up to overthrow the government either. But just because there isn't a need right now right this second or year or decade to defend your house or yourself from those who wish you harm doesn't mean there will never be. It's also much more difficult to ask robbers or tyrants to share their weapons when they do come knocking.  

So the next hastily uttered argument is that only a gun nut would argue this point. How many times have you heard that we cant have a reasonable discussion on gun control with them there crazy gun nuts? Well there's a big problem with that argument and that is that it is one sided.  To gun control proponents any form of reasonable discussion on gun control clearly must lie between a total ban and what we currently have today. To those who are on the other side the spectrum are effectively looking at the problems and believing a solution exists between what we have today and no gun control whatsoever. A gun nut is simply on the other side of the tree of a gun control nut. there is no overlap and there never will be it doesn't mean one sides crazy and the other is rational, it means, either both sides are crazy, or both sides are providing rational solutions to the problems that they respectively see.  I tend to side with the latter idea but clearly the gun nuts ruin gun control debates argument is less well informed intelligentsia and more little child throwing a tantrum.

So, says the brilliant people musing on this problem, what does the data say? I'm glad you asked, because the data is a bit lopsided. No it doesn't tilt towards gun control it actually leans fairly heavily the other way.  There are lower crime rates, drastically lower, in areas where there is less gun control. As if that's not enough there were several other attempted mass murders in the past few months. but in at least two of the cases the perpetrators were stopped by legal gun toting citizens before the death toll became news worthy. We also know that most of these mass murders occur in what are typically considered gun free zones. Not really a surprise if you want unanswered rampage why would you go armed to a police station, military base, or gun show. But of course clearly the AR-15 is a problem because it was used in the 4 last mass shootings.

You know what it was, but its also the most popular gun in america.  Why? Because Americans like them. Tell you what I would be willing to bet that if you sat down and found out what the most popular make and model car was on the road that is going to be correlated to the make and model with the highest number of traffic fatalities. Id bet that criminals are more likely to have Iphones as their personal phone than any other make or model. There are more viruses coded for PC's than Mac's, and more viruses coded for Mac's than the Google Chromebooks.  the overwhelming majority of men that cheat on their spouses watch porn.  I can go at this all day because first correlation does not imply causation and secondly because items which are popular in general are likely to be as popular for any negative or criminal activity. If you think that the AR-15 being used in the past four mass murders is significant and not a red herring your dumb and I got great cancer prevention method to sell you. 

Dont believe me, that's fair ill prove it. My paintball gun is an assault weapon.  I own a Tippman A5 with a pistol grip, a collapsible stock, a high round hopper (paintball storage) and special modifications to make it fire faster and even a tactical barrel shroud.  Its not a weapon of war it was a stylistic choice. Kind of like this is the first google image result for Tippman A5

So umm ya people like assault weapons just because.   

But what about those damn extended clips clearly they are a problem. Well no actually the largest number of rounds fired from a clip in the Aurora shootings was about 10 bullets, And this is similar to other incidences. Thats because most mass murderers aren't well trained, they don't count their bullets and maximize the number of shots per clip they just start shooting and switch out clips when they feel like it. you'll see the same behavior from kids playing a first person shooter. 

Which reminds oh video games sweet, sweet violent video games. THERE HAS NEVER EVER BEEN A PROVEN VIABLE LINK BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND MASS MURDERS, IN FACT MANY MASS MURDERERS DON'T PLAY VIDEO GAMES ON A HARDCORE LEVEL. So ya theres that but more importantly with the bulk majority of mass murderers being male and the overwhelming number of males playing or having played videogames it kind of goes back to that correlation causation thing we just talked about.  

But, But what if we banned guns or bullets or weapons then there would be no guns for mass killings. The thing is people are really good at just using whats convenient to kill people. Theres an entire museum dedicated to prison weapons and some of them are damn ingenious. The Oklahoma city bomb was made with... fertilizer.  Humans have evolved to find ways to kill things, and guns particularly the most popular gun on the planet is really just convenient.  If you take that away people will simply start grabbing whatever other guns are around. so ban the guns and its not gonna slow down or stop the mass murder rate.  Lets be honest how much worse would aurora had been had the kid used his bombs in the theater. 

The hypothetical what if scenarios played out by gun control proponents are just that, what if scenarios. They don't exist and will never exist. the guy who wakes up in the morning and decides he wants to kill a bunch of people isn't going to be deterred simply because he couldn't find an easy gun. They'll build bombs or worse. Hell simply grabbing a pesticide sprayer and filling one of or more of the classrooms with gasoline would have killed way more kids. So the key is to fight fire with fire, when crazy walks into the classroom you put him down that's it problem solved. simply knowing that people could have had a gun is going to be a greater deterrent than any gun control. 

Lets tally the scores
                                         Gun Nuts                      |                            Gun Control Nuts
1. Statistics
2. Logic
3. The Law

Kind of unbalanced. It's unfortunate but on an objective scorecard fear, empathy, and passion don'tt count for anything. That Being said lets revisit that first paragraph, the one asking about Obama's executive orders and whether or not they were unreasonable. Well considering there are no arguments for gun control and several against it can comfortably be said ,speaking objectively, president Obama went too far because anything with no objective support is too far.  Does that mean that what he did was unreasonable or tyrranical? No, it reasonable to want to prevent a tragedy like sandy hook, and he had far more power to push if he wanted it. Is what he did right? Absolutely not. Was bringing children on stage aiming for a logical or reasonable discourse? Hell no.

The only way to prevent, slow or stop the body count of incidences like sandy hook is to level the playing field. Obama knows this its why he his wife and his children all have armed bodyguards. Mandating the white house be a gun free zone isn't likely to stop someone who wishes him harm. Guns are.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Wheres the Hyper Inflation

I saw this as an interesting post on and thought it warranted a thorough look.

Questions for the Austrians:
Why hasn't hyper-inflation hit yet? We are well into QE-infinity now and although food prices have gone up, we are yet to see Weimar-type paper burning on the streets. What gives? What manipulations are going on to prevent such exponential inflation?
Thanks all.

This is an excellent question for those of us free market folks to answer. If all our doomsaying is to be believed we should be experiencing hyperinflation so where is it all going?
Well for starters its reasonably safe to say that we are in fact suffering from hyper inflation. We are seeing a drop in wages, high unemployment, and poor economic growth. Yet even under these conditions we are seeing prices increase. If your doing the same job you were 5 years ago and your able to buy less with your paycheck thats arguably inflation.
I have heard the consumer price index tagged in for these debates. For those who dont know the Consumer Price Index is the estimated price of goods for a particular year tagged to the price of those same set of goods in previous years.  Its a relatively effective means of tracking inflation except it ignores subsidies, incentives, spending habits and production efficiency all of which are part of the cost. If we look at gas, retail pricing on most goods, or even sandwiches at subway we can see tons of inflation. 
Subway is a perfect example of where the CPI breaks down I actually worked at a subway almost 4 years ago. The 5$ footlong marketing campaign hadnt quite started and most of their subs except for the cheesesteak, Pastrami, Turkey Ham and some others were 5$ or less. Not only was a Tuna 5$ or less but you got four scoops per six inch as opposed to the current three and three tomatoes as opposed to the current two. Assuming the tuna is the most costly item in the sub and a current price point of about 6.40$ per foot long its safe to say prices have inflated a bit more than the CPI would let on. Another excellent example of monetary inflation is the price of precious metals. old and silver prices have skyrocketed, considering there have been no major supply disruptions its pretty easy to say the dollar has fallen dramatically in value compared to these commodities. 
But even with this inflation were still not looking at insane levels of monetary devaluation. So to truly answer this question we need to look deeper at the why. There are a few key reasons the first is globalization.  Much of the created notes have been shipped overseas to pay for goods and services from those countries as such the economic inflation that should be felt among a group of a little over 350 million individuals is spread through almost 9 billion. As long as our dollar is whats tied to the oil market we can expect our dollars to continue to be traded among foreign nations. 

A second factor affecting the monetary supply is what is being created through its expansion. Created dollars are used to fuel government spending and government spending is used to fund projects that no sane individual would pay for with their own money. As several studies have found government spending does not lead to an economic multiplier every dollar spent generates less than a dollar in economic output. while there is debate as to what this factor is in the end it is always less than a dollar producing a dollar. In short as government finances poorly performing technologies it destroys dollars worth of economic value.  

Now several people have shown that there is no drastic inflation of the number of physical dollars in circulation. This is not so true for digital currency which has shown a massive jump since 2008. As such there is no visual surplus of physical dollars and thus no drastic inflation that is tied to a physical dollar. What this demonstrates is th most important factor in economic numbers is how much we believe in it. If everyone thought there was too much money then the inflation of the dollar would be incredibly rapid, but as long as someone is buying US debt and someone doesn't care about the fed irresponsible fiscal policy can be continued.