Thursday, 30 April 2015

4th anniversary of Variable Variability

The previous birthdays I have simply forgotten, my apologies, but today is the 4th anniversary of Variable Variability.

More than usual birthdays, the day is a bit arbitrary. Many years I already wrote the occasional essay for my homepage. Ideas that I wanted to share, but were not big enough for an article or thoughts that I was afraid I would forget again with my terrible memory.

The first post of Variable Variability on the 30th of April 2011 was thus a republication of an essay from 2004 on the fractal nature of clouds and the limits of the fractal approximation.

The first two posts specially written for Variable Variability are: Is obesity bias evolutionary? and Good ideas, motivation and economics, both on the 28th of May 2011 somehow. Must have been a writing-fever day.

They are still good posts, but not much read because of the time they were published. To reduce your weight it may help to consciously eat less and move more, but that is an empirical question, it is not as obvious as many claim. Science is a creative profession and knowing where good ideas come from can thus be helpful. The second skill would be a good intuition, which of these problems to tackle. You also need technical skills, but they are overrated.

Another contender for the beginning of this blog would be January 2012, when I posted a press release on the famous homogenization validation study of the COST Action HOME. From a meeting several years before, I vaguely knew that Roger Pielke Sr. was interested in homogenization. Thus I asked him if he was interested in a repost. Roger referred me to someone called Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That. Coming from a good source, Watts asked me whether he could repost, maybe he noticed that I was not too enthusiastic (I had read some WUWT posts by that time) or maybe he read the post (and did not like the message that homogenization methods improve temperature trend estimates) because in the end he did not post my press release.

To promote the press release I started to look a bit more at other blogs and comment there. Now I see this as part of blogging, thus you could see this as the start of blogging.

Mitigation sceptics seem to have a tendency to think that scientific articles are written for the purpose of pissing them off. But they are not that important. Most scientists hardly know they exist. I did know that there was some trouble on the other side of the Atlantic in the USA, that a larger group there was sceptical about climate change. Being sceptical is sympathetic and there are so many real uncertainties. So why not? I was completely unprepared for the industrial production of deceit and misinformation and the rock bottom quality of the nonsense these people made up. I still wonder why mitigation sceptics do not orient themselves by the real uncertainties and problems; they are spelled out in detail in every IPCC report. It sometimes looks like winning a debate is less important to the most vocal mitigation sceptics than angering greenies, which is best done by stubbornly repeating the most stupid arguments you have. (In the light of the discussion we are just having at ATTP, let me add that I this is not an argument, I do not think this paragraph will convince anyone of climate change, I am just describing how I personally see the situation.)

Like the blogger of And Then There's Physics, I naively thought that it may be helpful to explain the mistakes in the posts of WUWT. Now keeping more of an eye on other blogs, I noticed a WUWT post about an erroneous conference abstract by Koutsoyiannis, which was called a "new peer reviewed paper". I wrote: "As a goal-oriented guy, Anthony Watts found the two most erroneous statements". That was the first time I got some readers and at least Watts admitted that there was no peer review. The other errors remained.

Earlier this year I wrote a short update:
Now two and a half year later, there is still no new activity on this [Koutsoyiannis] study. I guess that that means that Koutsoyiannis admits his conference abstract did not show what the State of the Climate and WUWT wanted you to believe. Together with all the other WUWT fails, it is clear that someone interested in climate change should never get his information from WUWT.
But well, who is listening to me, I do not have the right party book.

A little later Anthony Watts put WUWT on hold for the weekend because he was working on something big. He had written a manuscript and a press release and asked for blog reviews. Thus I wrote a blog review about this still unpublished manuscript. This was the first time this blog got a decent number of comments and the time people informed each other in comments elsewhere that there was this new blog on the block. That was fun.

I have somewhat given up on debunking misinformation and aim to write more about what is really important. Sometimes the misinformation is a nice hook to get people interested. I had wanted to announce the birth of the new Task Team on Homogenization (TT-HOM) anyway. By connecting this to the review of the UK Policy Foundation with silly loaded questions, more people now know about TT-HOM than otherwise; normally setting up a a new Task Team would have been a boring bureaucratic act not much people would be interested in.

Debunking does not seem to have much impact, even in cases of clear misquotations and when Watts deceives his readers about his number of readers, there is no bulge. The number of WUWT readers is a small matter, but it does not require any science skills to check, everyone can see this was deception. However, no one complained about being lied to.

America's problems with mitigation sceptics are not because of the science, mitigation sceptics seem to make this claim to make adult political debate about (free market) solutions impossible. By not complaining about deception they make clear that their issue is not the science. Their response to a new scientific paper is almost completely determined by the question: can it be spun into a case against mitigation? If they were interested in science, their response would be determined by the quality of the study. America's problems with mitigation sceptics can thus also not be solved by science or science communication. The American society will have to find a political solution for their toxic political atmosphere. Maybe that simply starts by talking to your neighbour, even if he has the wrong bumper sticker. Go on the street and make it clear to everyone this is important and something to think more about and make it clear to politicians that it is costly to peddle nonsense.


Blogging has been a lot of fun. I like writing, playing with ideas and debating.

The first two posts got 50 to 100 pageviews up to now. They were purely written for fun.

If you write a scientific article you can also be happy to get a 100 readers. But if it inspires someone else to continue the thought, to build on it, it is worth it.

Compared to the number of readers a scientist is used to, this blog is a huge megaphone. Thank you all for reading, your interest is very rewarding and nowadays another reason to write posts. With that megaphone also comes responsibility. I guess that mitigation sceptics will not like much of what I write, but when colleagues do not like something I hope for their honest feedback. That would be valuable and is much appreciated.

Blogging has given me a broader perspective on climatology and science in general. Where else would I have heard of the beautiful ideas of John Zyman on the social dimension of science? (Thanks Mark!)

A birthday is a good day to wish something. Do you have anything you would like me to write about? I will not promise anything, I still have about 100 drafts in the queue, but welcome new ideas. I am always surprised how much people read my posts about how science works and the intricacies of the scientific culture. It is my daily life, almost like writing about washing the dishes. It is easy for me to have a blind spot there, thus if you have any questions on science, just shoot.

Please do not wish a post why homogenization increased the trend for some station in Kyrgyzstan. Not on a birthday.

* Photo of fireworks by AndreasToerl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


andthentheresphysics said...

Happy Birthday.

verytallguy said...

Happy Birthday VV.

Your preferred celebration does leave you open to the charge of hypocrisy, from the highly authoritative and trustworthy Pravda, no less...

Victor Venema said...

Your preferred celebration does leave you open to the charge of hypocrisy

Fortunately for my karma, I am only looking. :)

Thanks, ATTP and Tall one. said...

Happy birthday,Victor! I didn't know you had been blogging for so long although now that I think about it, that's about as long as me. My very first post was on April 10th 2011 and it was also on Blogger which is where I started my blog. I'm going to go and read the obesity bias post. Sounds interesting!

William Connolley said...

Congratulations; happy birthday; keep it up.

Victor Venema said...

I was surprised myself it it so long. Also that Watts et al. (2012) is already that long ago. Time flies.

So I am 10 days younger than you? :)

Thank you for your best wishes, Rachel and William. Keep blogging.

izenmeme said...

Happy Birthday
May you have many more, just posting about the scientific 'washing up' is most interesting to those of us outside the kitchen!

Victor Venema said...

Thanks, let's also include some washing of dirty laundry.