Tuesday 21 February 2017

Politics is not rational

Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election because people are not rational. Except for racists and millionaires it would have been in the best interest of everyone to have voted for Clinton. But we are not rational, we do not always look at our best interests. Real humans are not homo economii.

That includes me. As a scientist it is my job to keep a cool head. I hope you will excuse me for thinking I do my job reasonably well. I like to see myself as rational, but naturally I am not, especially learning about the ultimatum game shocked my self-perception.

It is a very simple and pure economic game. Reducing a problem to its essence like this has the elegance my inner physicist loves. In the ultimatum game, two players must divide a sum of money. The first player has to propose a certain division. The second player can accept this division or reject it. If the offer is rejected both players do not receive any money. In its purest form, the experiment is played only once and anonymously with players that do not know each other.

Time for a short thinking pause: What would you do? How much would you offer as player one? Below which percentage would you reject the offer?

Initially, I wondered why economists would play this game. Surely player one would would offer 50/50 and player two would accept. But that was my irrational side and my missing economic eduction. A good economist would expect that player two would accept any non-zero offer: it is better to get something than nothing, and that thus player one will make the smallest possible offer. Reality is in between. Many people offer 50%, but many also do not. These offers below 50% are, however, also regularly rejected. Player two is apparently willing to hurt himself to punish unfair behavior. This game and many variations and similar games lead to the conclusion: humans are not purely selfish, but have a sense of fairness.

As a student of variability, for me the key aspect of the ultimatum game is its non-linearity. You either get something or nothing. In case of nonlinear processes, such as radiation flowing through clouds, variability is important. A smooth cloud field reflects more solar radiation than a bumpy cloud field with the same amount of water. The variability of the cloud water is important because the flow of radiation through clouds is a non-linear process.

By sometimes rejecting low offers, player two gets better offers from player one. This is especially clear when the game is played multiple times with the same players. In the beginning quite large offers are rejected to entice larger offers later in the game. How humans evolved a sense of fairness to be able to also benefit from this in one-off games is not yet understood. Fairness is surprising because a cartoon version of evolutionary theory would predict that altruism is only possible among kin. But the empirical evidence clearly shows that fairness belongs to being human. (Just like competition.)

Knowledge will come only if economics can be reoriented to the study of man as he is and the economic system as it actually exists.
Ronald Coase

Fairness is but one emotion that it not rational, not "productive". It offers some protection against unfairness, such as wages going lower and lower. Offering and accepting jobs are yes-no decisions under uncertainty for both parties. If there is one term that is often used in labor conflicts it is "unfair wages" or "unfair labor conditions". All the while economists wonder why unemployment is higher than the friction unemployment of rational actors and blame anything but their faulty assumptions.

Anger is also not productive, but fear of anger forces the haves to make better offers to the have-nots. Amok runs are not productive, mass shootings are not productive, suicide attacks are not productive. I would venture that independent of the proclaimed rationalizations, they signal a lack of justice and fairness.

The American election was also seen as unfair by many. The two parties had both selected historically unpopular candidates. Had the historically unpopular Trump not run, Clinton would have been the least popular candidate since polling started on this question. The main reason to vote was not to get other candidate.

With both candidates and parties so unpopular, with the historical unpopularity ratings of Congress and Washington the enormous partisan tribalism in America is surprising. The main pride of both tribes seems to be that they are at least not members of the other tribe. The lizard people have managed to pit the population against each other, while they loot the country and drag the world down. Do help me in the comments how "they" did this.

Many felt the election was a trap. In such a case one can expect irrational behavior. Or as Michael Moore elegantly said: Trump is the human Molotov cocktail they could throw through the window of the establishment. I am afraid the voters will find it was the window of their own house.

One mistake the Democratic establishment made in their support for Clinton was to expect rational behavior. They learned about economics and its political counterpart [[public choice theory]]. Both theories assume rational behavior. The Democrat establishment assumed that the working class had no other options than to vote for them because the Republicans would make their lives even worse.

Nic Smith, a self-described "white trash hillbilly from the holler" from coal country, on Trump voters: They are desperate to believe in something.

In a rational world the establishment would be right and player two would take the non-zero Clinton offer, in the real world people are fed up with begin treated unfairly and seeing inequality and corruption jointly grow for decades. In the real world having to choose the lesser evil, election after election, over and over again, makes it ever more likely the voters will sulk. That the Democrat establishment had just put up their middle finger to half of their party during the primaries likely also did not help putting people in a more rational mood.

Last year's presidential election was an extreme example, but a two-party system invariably mean that many people do not feel represented and are dissatisfied. [[A transferable vote]] would do a lot to fix this and gives the voters the possibility to vote for their candidate of choice without losing their vote.

A two-party system is also much more prone to corruption. A large part of the politicians will be in save districts and do not have to fear the wrath of their voters. Where the voters do have some choice, the corporations only have to convince politician D that they will also bribe politician R and both can do so with impunity.

A corrupt two-party system is not much better than a one-party system. In a representative democracy with more than two parties there would be real competition and the voters could vote for another politician.

What can we do to break this ultimatum game? The rhetoric and tribalism in America is unique. Humans are social animals and our group is important to us, but the US tribalism in beyond normal. For example, 34% of Trump voters being willing to say Trump's inauguration was the biggest ever is not normal.

Tribalism and emotions are not good for clear thinking and needs to be fought. The only thing we can change is how we act ourselves, we should try to reduce unnecessarily antagonizing people. When you have to say something bad about the corrupt Republican politicians in Washington make clear you mean them and do not use the term Republicans, which also means every single member of the group, most of whom also reject corruption.

I am only talking about who you address. Please stand your ground, there is no need to keep on moving our position in the direction of corrupt unreasonable politics. That only signals you do not believe in your ideas. If there is one thing frustrating about US politics it is weak corporate Democrats continually moving in the direction of ever more corrupt Republican politicians in the name of appeasement and in reality because they have the same donors.

Given the lack of a real choice one can also not blame the voters for every character error of their candidate and for all policies. For fashion icon Ken Bone the election was a choice between his personal benefit as coal worker and the greater good. Many Trump voters voted for Obama before. Some people say they voted Trump expecting him not to be able to execute his racist plans because they are unconstitutional. That may be a rationalization and for me Trump's overt racism would be a deal breaker, but not all of his voters are automatically bigots, even if many clearly are.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr

Most people simply voted the party they always voted. There are people who have their health insurance via the Affordable Care Act who voted Republican and are likely to lose coverage. They thought the Republicans would not do something as barbaric as repealing the ACA without replacement. Thousand of people will die every year when that happens, but the repeal means that billionaires will have to pay less for healthcare and they own the Republican politicians, so I am less optimistic they will not do it.

Do not go around calling every Trump voter a personalized Donald Trump, make them an offer they cannot refuse. Especially the Democratic establishment should stop blaming everyone but themselves for not voting for their inevitable candidate. Rather than scolding their voters, they should make the left an offer they cannot refuse.

That offer would be a non-corrupt candidate. That would be an offer Democrat and Republican voters alike would find it hard to refuse. It is, unfortunately, the one compromise the Democratic establishment is least willing to make. The people in power are in power because they are good at selling out to corporations.

This video gives a good overview of the corruption in America and how it impacts normal people via politics and the media. Since corruption became worse the workers no longer shared in the increases in productivity and the politicians respond to the wishes of the donor class and not the working class. Readers from the USA may think political corruption is normal because it slowly and imperceptibly grew, but in its enormity it is not normal. It was much better before the 1970s it is much better in other advanced nations.

Fortunately several initiatives have sprung up after the Trump election debacle and after Sanders showing it is possible to campaign for the presidency without taking donor money. As an offspring of the Sanders campaign Our Revolution will run a large number of candidates under one political and organizational platform. Similar, but very clear in their wish to primary and get rid of corporate Democrats, are the Justice Democrats.

The non-partisan group Brand New Congress also wants to help (Tea Party) Republicans that do not accept money into Congress. I would love to see more of this on the Republican side. In Europe conservative parties are conservative, but not corrupt and not bat shit crazy. They are people you can have an adult conversation with and negotiate. They may prioritize the environment less, but do not childishly claim climate change does not exist. Getting non-corrupt Republicans into office may even be worth the time of US liberals.

The group 314 Action (inspired by π) work to get more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) people into politics. If you love money and power, science is the weirdest career choice you can make. Thus I would expect the scientists that run for office to be mostly clean. The climate "debate" shows that nearly all climatologists are not touched by corporate corruption, while there are strong incentives for coal and oil companies to bribe them.

Let's work to end corporate rule, get the corporation out of politics and send them back to take care of the economy.

Following The Ninth: In The Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony.

Related reading

The big lesson of Trump's first 2 weeks: resistance works

The magazine Correspondent: This is how we can fight Donald Trump’s attack on democracy. Focuses on how to change the media, which has become more pressing in the Age of Trump

Chris Hedges: We Are All Deplorables. "My relatives in Maine are deplorables. I cannot write on their behalf. I can write in their defense. ... I see the Christian right as a serious threat to an open society. But I do not hate those who desperately cling to this emotional life raft"

Thomas Frank in The Guardian: How the Democrats could win again, if they wanted

CNN Money: U.S. inequality keeps getting uglier

David Roberts of Vox: Everything mattered: lessons from 2016's bizarre presidential election - WTF just happened?

Political Polarization in the American Public - How Increasing Ideological Uniformity and Partisan Antipathy Affect Politics, Compromise and Everyday Life

North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy by Andrew Reynolds, Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A law professor's warning: we are closer to oligopoly than at any point in 100 years. Economically. The political power of the corporations is also increasing

The first days inside Trump’s White House: Fury, tumult and a reboot. "Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements, and he feels demoralized that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment."

An important piece for poll nerds by Nate Silver: Why Polls Differ On Trump’s Popularity?

Variable Variability: The ultimatum game, a key experiment showing intrinsic fairness and altruism among strangers

* Photo at the top, Be Human, is by ModernDope and has a creative commons CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Sunday 5 February 2017

David Rose's alternative reality in the Daily Mail

Peek-a-boo! Joanna Krupa shows off her stunning figure in see-through mesh dress over black underwear
Bottoms up! Perrie Edwards sizzles in plunging leotard as Little Mix flaunt their enviable figures in skimpy one-pieces
Bum's the word! Lottie Moss flaunts her pert derriere in a skimpy thong as she strips off for steamy selfie

Sorry about those titles. They provide the fitting context right next to a similarly racy Daily Mail on Sunday piece of David Rose: "Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data". Another article on that "pause" thingy that mitigation skeptics do their best to pretend not to understand. For people in the fortunate circumstances not to know what the Daily Mail is, this video provides some context about this Murdoch "newspaper".

[UPDATE: David Rose' source says in an interview with E&E News on Tuesday: “The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data”. So I guess you can skip this post, except if you get pleasure out of seeing the English language being maltreated. But do watch the Daily Mail video below.

See also this article on the void left by the Daily Mail after fact checking. I am sure all integrityTM-waving climate "skeptics" will condemn David Rose and never listen to him again.]

You can see this "pause" in the graph below of the global mean temperature. Can you find it? Well you have to think those last two years away and then start the period exactly in that large temperature peak you see in 1998. It is not actually a thing, it is a consequence of cherry picking a period to get a politically convenient answer (for David Rose's pay masters).

In 2013 Boyin Huang of NOAA and his colleagues created an improved sea surface dataset called ERSST.v4. No one cared about this new analysis. Normal good science. One of the "scandals" Rose uncovered was that NOAA is drafting an article on ERSST.v5.

But this post is unfortunately about nearly nothing, about the minimal changes in the top panel of the graph below. I feel the important panel is the lower one. It shows that in the raw data the globe seems to warm more. This is because before WWII many measurements were performed with buckets and the water in the bucket would cool a little due to evaporation before reading the thermometer. Scientists naturally make corrections for such problems (homogenization) and that helps make a more accurate assessment of how much the world actually warmed.

But Rose is obsessed with the top panel. I made the graph extra large, so that you can see the differences. The thick black line shows the new assessment (ERSST.v4) and the thin red line the previously estimated global temperature signal (ERSST.v3). Differences are mostly less than 0.05°C, both warmer and cooler. The "problem" is the minute change at the right end of the curves.

The mitigation skeptical movement was not happy when a paper in Science in 2015, Karl and colleagues (2015), pointed out that due to this update the "pause" is gone, even if you use the bad statistics the mitigation skeptics like. As I have said for many years now about political activists claiming this "pause" is highly important: if your political case depends on such minute changes, your political case is fragile.

In the mean time a recent article in Science Advances by Zeke Hausfather and colleagues (2016) now shows evidence that the updated dataset (ERSSTv4) is indeed better than the previous version (ERSSTv3b). They do so by comparing the ERSST dataset, which comes from a large number of data sources, with data that comes only from only one source (buoys, satellites (CCl) or ARGO). These single-source datasets are shorter, but without trend uncertainties due to the combination of sources. The plot below shows that the ERSSTv4 update improves the fit with the other datasets.

The trend change over the cherry-picked "pause" period were mostly due to the changes in the sea surface temperature of ERSST. Rose makes a lot of noise about the land data, where the update was inconsequential. As indicated in Karl and colleagues (2015) this was a beta-version dataset. The raw data was published; that is the data of the International Surface Temperature Initiative (ISTI) and the homogenization method was published. The homogenization method works well; I checked myself.

The dataset itself is not published yet. Just applying a known method to a known dataset is not a scientific paper. Too boring.

So for the paper NOAA put a lot of work into estimating the uncertainty due to the homogenization method. When developing a homogenization method you have to make many choices. For example, inhomogeneities are found by comparing one candidate station with multiple nearby reference stations. There are settings for now many stations and for how nearby the reference stations need to be. NOAA studied which of these settings are most important with a nifty new statistical method. These settings were varied to study how much influence that has. I look forward to reading the final paper. I guess Rose will not read it and stick to his role as suggestive interpreter of interpreters.

The update of NOAA's land data will probably remove a precious conspiracy of the mitigation skeptical movement. While, as shown above, the adjustments reduce our estimate for the warming of the entire world, the adjustments make the estimate for the warming over land larger. Mitigation skeptics like to show the adjustments for land data only to suggest that evil scientists are making global warming bigger.

This is no longer the case. A recommendable overview paper by Philip Jones, The Reliability of Global and Hemispheric Surface Temperature Records, analyzed the new NOAA dataset. The results for land are shown below. The new ISTI raw data dataset shows more warming than the previous NOAA raw data dataset. As a consequence the homogenization now does not change the global mean appreciably any more to arrive at about the same answer after homogenization; compare NOAA uncorrected (yellow line) with NOAA (red; homogenized).

The main reason for the smaller warming in the old NOAA raw data was that this smaller dataset contained a higher percentage of airport stations. That is because airports report their data very reliably in near real time. Many of these airport stations were in cities before and cities are warmer than airports due to the urban heat island effect. Such relocations thus typically cause cooling jumps that are not related to global warming and are removed by homogenization.

So we have quite some irony here.
Still Rose sees a scandal in these minute updates and dubs it Climategate 2; I thought we were already at 3 or 4. In this typical racy style he calls data "wrong", "rogue", "biased". Knowing that data is never perfect is why scientists do their best to assess the quality of the data, remove problems and make sure that the quality is good enough to make a certain statement. In return people like David Rose simultaneously pontificate about uncertainty monsters and assume data is perfect and then get the vapors when updates are needed.

Rose gets some suggestive quotes from an apparently disgruntled retired NOAA employee. The quotes themselves seem to be likely inconsequential procedural complaints, the corresponding insinuations seem to come from Rose.

I thought journalism had a rule that claims by a source need to be confirmed by at least a second source. I am missing any confirmation.

While Rose presents the employee as an expert on the topic, I have never heard of him. Peter Thorne, who worked at NOAA, confirms that the employee did not work with surface station data himself. He has a decent publication record, mainly on satellite climate datasets of clouds, humidity and radiation. Ironically, I keep using that word, he also has papers about the homogenization of his datasets, while homogenization is treated by the mitigation skeptical movement as the work of the devil. I am sure they are willing to forgive him his past transgressions this time.

It sounds as if he made a set of procedures for his climate satellite data, which he really liked, and wanted other groups in NOAA to use it as well. Was frustrated when others did not prioritize enough updating their existing procedures to his.

For David Rose this is naturally mostly about politics and in his fantasies the Paris climate treaty would not have existed with the Karl and colleagues (2015) paper. I know that "pause" thingy is important for the Anglo-American mitigation skeptical movement, but let me assure Rose that the rest of the world considers all the evidence and does not make politics based on single papers.

[UPDATE: Some days you gotta love journalism: a journalist asked several of the diplomats who worked for years on the Paris climate treaty, they gave the answer you would expect: Contested NOAA paper had no influence on Paris climate deal. The answers still give an interesting insight into the sausage making. What is actually politically important.]

David Rose thus ends:
Has there been an unexpected pause in global warming? If so, is the world less sensitive to carbon dioxide than climate computer models suggest?
No, there never was an "unexpected pause." Even if there were, such a minute change is not important for the climate sensitivity. Most methods do not use the historical warming for that and those that do consider the full warming of about 1°C since the 19th century and not only short periods with unreliable, noisy short-term trends.

David Rose:
And does this mean that truly dangerous global warming is less imminent, and that politicians’ repeated calls for immediate ‘urgent action’ to curb emissions are exaggerated?
No, but thanks for asking.

Post Scriptum. Sorry that I cannot talk about all errors in the article of David Rose, if only because in most cases he does not present clear evidence and because this post would be unbearably long. The articles of Peter Thorne and Zeke Hausfather are mostly complementary on the history and regulations at NOAA and on the validation of NOAA's results, respectively.

Related information

Buzzfeed (October 2017): This Is How A Bogus Climate Story Becomes Unstoppable On Social Media

New York Times (September 2017): British Press Watchdog Says Climate Change Article Was Faulty

2 weeks later. The nailing New York Times interviewed several former colleagues of NOAA retire Bates: How an Interoffice Spat Erupted Into a Climate-Change Furor. "He’s retaliating. It’s like grade school ... At that meeting, Dr. Bates shouted that Ms. McGuirk was not trustworthy and belonged in jail, according to an internal log ..." Lock her up, lock her up, ...

Wednesday. The NOAA retiree now says: "The Science paper would have been fine had it simply had a disclaimer at the bottom saying that it was citing research, not operational, data for its land-surface temperatures." To me it was always clear it was research data, otherwise they would have cited a data paper and named the dataset. How a culture clash at NOAA led to a flap over a high-profile warming pause study

Tuesday. is a balanced article from the New York Times: Was Data Manipulated in a Widely Cited 2015 Climate Study? Steve Bloom: "How "Climategate" should have been covered." Even better if mass media would not have to cover office politics on archival standards fabricated into a fake scandal.

Also on Tuesday, an interview of E&E News: 'Whistleblower' says protocol was breached but no data fraud: The disgruntled NOAA retiree: "The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data".

Associated Press: Major global warming study again questioned, again defended. "The study has been reproduced independently of Karl et al — that's the ultimate platinum test of whether a study is to be believed or not," McNutt said. "And this study has passed." Marcia McNutt, who was editor of Science at the time the paper was published and is now president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Daily Mail’s Misleading Claims on Climate Change. If I were David Rose I would give back my journalism diploma after this, but I guess he will not.

Monday. I hope I am not starting to bore people by saying that Ars Technica has the best science reporting on the world wide web. This time again. Plus inside scoop suggesting all of this is mainly petty office politics. Sad.

Sunday. Factcheck: Mail on Sunday’s ‘astonishing evidence’ about global temperature rise. Zeke Hausfather wrote a very complementary response, pointing out many problems of the Daily Mail piece that I had to skip. Zeke works at the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which produces one of the main global temperature datasets.

Sunday. Peter Thorne, climatology professor in Ireland, former NOAA employee and leader of the International Surface Temperature Initiative: On the Mail on Sunday article on Karl et al., 2015.

Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy) — "Together these show that Rose is, as usual, grossly exaggerating the death of global warming" — on the science and the politics of the Daily Mail piece: Sorry, climate change deniers, but the global warming 'pause' still never happened

You can download the future NOAA land dataset (GHCNv4-beta) and the land dataset used by Karl and colleagues (2015), h/t Zeke Hausfather.

The most accessible article on the topic rightly emphasizes the industrial production of doubt for political reasons: Mail on Sunday launches the first salvo in the latest war against climate scientists.

A well-readable older article on the study that showed that ERSST.v4 was an improvement: NOAA challenged the global warming ‘pause.’ Now new research says the agency was right.

One should not even have to answer the question, but: No, U.S. climate scientists didn't trick the world into adopting the Paris deal. A good complete overview at medium level.

Even fact checker Snopes sadly wasted its precious time: Did NOAA Scientists Manipulate Climate Change Data?
A tabloid used testimony from a single scientist to paint an excruciatingly technical matter as a worldwide conspiracy.

Carbon Brief Guest post by Peter Thorne on the upcoming ERSSTv5 dataset, currently under peer review: Why NOAA updates its sea surface temperature record.