Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Doglight

Pic source: http://www.aef.com/exhibits/awards/clio_awards/2005/11

America's 80 million dogs produce 11 million (US) tons of faeces every year, according to this article from NorthJersey.com, which is about DNA-testing the waste and prosecuting non-pooper-scooping owners.

What to do with it?

In these energy conservation conscious times, conceptual artist Matthew Mazzotta suggests using it as a power source for street lighting - see his Park Spark project here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quiz Night

We strolled a few yards up the damp road and into the pub. The board outside was there, advertising the competition for 8.30, but there was hardly anybody in. The gambling machine's display seemed to be keeping time with the piped music, until a man returned to it and fed in a tenner, which took several goes.

"It's full."

"I know, I'm trying to get some of it back out."

Gradually the entrants gathered: three chefs on our left, a couple of solitaries at this end of the bar, and a trio of regulars at the other end, hidden behind the pillar.

"We'll start at nine."

A man and his girlfriend dropped in to tell the owner about the funeral arrangements for a local who'd be known to others here, though he'd kept himself to himself.

Then we began. Welcome to the fourth pub quiz at the Castle. Googlers would be instantly disqualified. Prize a ten pound bar tab for the winner, and a packet of crisps for the best team name.  As Brummies, my wife said we should be the Peaky Blinders.

"Is there a picture round?"

We said it would be whoever could draw the best picture, but the barman handed us all a streakily-copied sheet of logos to identify.

A couple of years ago at the Waterman's, a big bloke had come in dressed as a Roman soldier and been thrown out for farting. The question-setter that time had been Lily, who'd escaped the dullness of Plymouth, but she's moved on again with baby and partner. Her sheets were full-colour and artistically illustrated.

Our host began squinting at his iphone and reading out questions.

"What type of monkey lives on the Rock of Gibraltar?"

"Orang-utans," said one of the chefs to his mates.

"Spaniards."

The lone wolves were comparing notes on the picture round.

"What element is needed for all forms of combustion?"

CO2 wasn't right when we came to mark a loner's sheet, but he can't have heard the barman remark "Another oxygen-related question" to the regulars round the corner.

Between rounds, the majority decamped to the pavement outside for a smoke, including Mine Host, leaving his taps vulnerable in the near-deserted bar. Stupid law.

A chef showed us a party picture on his phone, with two ghosts' heads in the group. Later, one of his mates suggested it could be done by someone changing position while the phone panned round. Post-quiz, a couple of girls turned up, one of whom had taken the pic, and she said they hadn't done that.

Next round. One of the loners left abruptly. He'd scored 5 out of 20, most questions not answered and the rest semi-legible. His response to "What do the letters RAM stand for in computing?" had been "ramofocation". (What do the letters THC stand for?)

Another chef came in and was updated on the ghosts.

"What are there twenty-six pairs of in the human body?"

We got an extra point for spelling chromosomes right. We had briefly considered "bollocks."

There was much anguish over what the C stood for in YMCA. And when asked what nuts were used in making pesto, the chefs agreed on cashews. Apparently the answer to "the butcher, the baker and the..." was not Old Mother Hubbard. The cry in fencing was what we'd put, "Touché!", not "Dun ya!" as they'd said - and there was no consolation point for correct punctuation.

Then there was the dispute with the quizmaster.

"What is the coloured part of the eve called?"

"Don't you mean eye?"

"No, there's no i in it."

"No, a y instead of a v."

"It definitely says eve," said the barman, screwing up his eyes and peering closer.

"If it's eye it's iris," said the remaining loner.

We settled for eye.

The Peaky Blinders struggled with the logos. Mercedes and Camel cigarettes were a cinch, but the double W defeated us (Wonder Woman) and the stylised R (Robin, Batman's partner). The head surrounded by a Greek wave motif turned out to be Versace.

The last question was impromptu, because of IT malfunction. "It's covered by the Google bar." "Move your thumb up." "I've done that."

So he thought and gave us, "What Spanish island did I spend a few months on when I was 21?"

"Alcatraz," said the loner.

"Majorca."

"No, it wasn't Majorca," said the barman.

We did our best.

The regulars beat us by two points, one of which I'd lost when I made my wife put yellow instead of white for the colour Wimbledon tennis balls used to be before they turned green. And we'd forgotten the candlestick in the six murder weapons in Cluedo; and it was a revolver, not a pistol (Mine Host had been very firm on that). The winners promptly left.

Best team name was between the chefs, who'd concocted something ending with a c followed by hunt, and the loner's Alone In The Dark. I gave my casting vote for the latter and the chefs accepted the justice of losing out for obscenity.

I stayed on for a half pint of lager while my wife went back to make a cheese and onion sandwich for me, but without onion as we'd used it up. The loner was a graphic designer who told me all sorts of interesting things about design, photography, maintaining copyright on the internet and making websites. He reckoned his 8-year-old child was ahead of him and you didn't need to be in London to go global any more.

A Hendrix documentary was on the screen behind us. I recalled seeing the news of his death as I walked into Newport bus station; AITD told me he'd covered it at college. Memory versus history. I told him what I'd only recently learned about how Bruce Lee had died (aspirin, the studio had spun -rubbish, it was Nepalese hash, especially dangerous if you had no body fat to absorb the toxins); he told me about his own martial arts expertise.

Home for a cheese sandwich, a shot of Chivas and the rest of Hendrix.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

ICS: Transporting the poor



Classic fm is broadcasting an advert for ICS, a government-funded scheme launched in 2011 to fund volunteer work abroad for 18-25-year-olds, who "don’t need cash, skills or qualifications", says the official website. Wikipedia (and who wrote the entry?) adds, "Following their placements ICS volunteers embark on a community project on their return to the UK."

Worthy, I expect, and interesting and fulfilling - and upskilling - for the participants. But why restricted to that age group? Anything to do with employment statistics?

Next best thing to the Thames Hulks and transportation to the colonies, I suppose.

But this doesn't go far enough. How about "Club 60 - 105" for the indigent old, to work and teach in the Third World? A few quid a week per head and they're off our hands. There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever Poundland.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Five climate arguments

The point of my recent Five climate futures post was to introduce the idea of future climate scenarios and their likelihood. To recap - how likely is each scenario and how do we know? 
  1. Unambiguous warming.
  2. Ambiguous warming.
  3. No change.
  4. Ambiguous cooling.
  5. Unambiguous cooling.

The short and obvious answer is that we have no idea. I estimated percentages based on how many there are. I know the estimates are illegitimate in any scientific sense, although I received only one challenge in the comments. Ah well.

The point is this – how do you estimate the likelihood of these climate scenarios using credible arguments? As far as I can see, there are five basic climate change arguments commonly encountered in the public domain. 
  1. Science with no predictive track record
  2. Appeals to authority.
  3. Rhetorical emotional appeals.
  4. Images – ice crashing into the sea etc.
  5. Abuse – overt, covert and parody

The debate is packed with nuances such the political use of exaggerated risk to control behaviour, but which of these arguments enables us to choose between the five climate scenarios do you think?

Well abuse can be fun and in my view has a useful place in the climate change debate, especially parody. If nothing else it holds before our tired eyes the absurdities of current energy policies and how we stumbled our way into this mess.

So let us humanise the whole debate and accept a more personal and emotional role in our own beliefs. Here are the crucial questions whereby I think we may get to grips with how little we know and how much we rely on authority :-

Which future climate scenario is your best guess?

Which argument supports your choice?

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Five climate futures

As I see it, there are five possible global climate temperature scenarios for the next five years. Apart from the unexpected that is! 
  1. Unambiguous warming.
  2. Ambiguous warming.
  3. No change.
  4. Ambiguous cooling.
  5. Unambiguous cooling.

Scenarios 2, 3 and 4 are where various misguided enthusiasts claim we are at the moment. Climate science is too inexact in its definitions and too saturated with political exigencies for a neutral observer to distinguish between them. Not that there are any neutral observers in this debate.

Even so, what may we say about the coming five years with some degree of confidence? Obviously we have to guess, but if we are able to get over the idea that this has much to do with science, then we may get somewhere.

Commonly observed traits of human behaviour are what guide us through the climate debate which in my view is mostly driven by global political ambitions, middle class anxieties and an undue respect for authority. Even so, it is surely possible to get away from the failures of climate science and take a look at human nature.

Scenarios 1 and 2 should ensure the political and intellectual survival of mainstream pro-AGW climate narratives. The other three, namely 3, 4 and 5 will obviously cause increasingly severe problems for the mainstream narrative.

If we assume that all five narratives are equally probable, and we have no science to tell us otherwise, then there is a 60% chance that the mainstream pro-AGW narrative may fail very badly indeed. It depends of the resilience of the narrative which is undoubtedly powerful for both political and emotional reasons.

On the other hand, there is a 40% chance that it will succeed politically and intellectually, at least for that five year period.

Not that these percentages should be taken too seriously, but we have to make sense of climate change somehow and the mainstream science isn’t getting us anywhere. Most of it is far too speculative as a basis for energy policies which one way or another will end up being driven by the real world.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

John Cook's Climate Change Mythbusters 20

This is part of a series reposting material from John Cook's Skeptical Science website. Although he is a physicist rather than a specialist in climate science, he is a convinced "global warmist" and tries to rebut frequently-raised objections to the theory. However, it is always possible to question the data (e.g. this valuable note about measuring temperature) and the line of argument. Please help advance the debate - with facts and logic.

Are glaciers growing or retreating?


What The Science Says:
Most glaciers are retreating, posing a serious problem for millions who rely on glaciers for water.
Climate Myth: Glaciers are growing
“[R]eports are coming in from all over the world: for the first time in over 250 years, glaciers in Alaska, Canada, New Zealand, Greenland, and now Norway are growing.”(JamulBlog)
Although Glaciologists measure year-to-year changes in glacier activity, it is the long term changes which provide the basis for statements such as "Global Glacier Recession Continues". Some Skeptics confuse these issues by cherry picking individual glaciers or by ignoring long term trends. Diversions such as these do not address the most important question of what is the real state of glaciers globally?

The answer is not only clear but it is definitive and based on the scientific literature. Globally glaciers are losing ice at an extensive rate (Figure 1). There are still situations in which glaciers gain or lose ice more than typical for one region or another but the long term trends are all the same, and about 90% of glaciers are shrinking worldwide (Figure 2).


Figure 1: Long-term changes in glacier volume adapted from Cogley 2009.
 
Figure 2: Percentage of shrinking and growing glaciers in 2008–2009, from the 2011 WGMS report
It is also very important to understand that glacier changes are not only dictated by air temperature changes but also by precipitation. Therefore, there are scenarios in which warming can lead to increases in precipitation (and thus glacier ice accumulation) such as displayed in part of southwestern Norway during the 1990s (Nesje et al 2008).

The bottom line is that glacier variations can be dependent on localized conditions but that these variations are superimposed on a clear and evident long term global reduction in glacier volume which has accelerated rapidly since the 1970s.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

John Cook's Climate Change Mythbusters 19

This is part of a series reposting material from John Cook's Skeptical Science website. Although he is a physicist rather than a specialist in climate science, he is a convinced "global warmist" and tries to rebut frequently-raised objections to the theory. However, it is always possible to question the data (e.g. this valuable note about measuring temperature) and the line of argument. Please help advance the debate - with facts and logic.
Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?
What The Science Says:
Al Gore's film was "broadly accurate" according to an expert witness called when an attempt was made through the courts to prevent the film being shown in schools.
Climate Myth: Al Gore got it wrong
“Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, was […] criticised by a high court judge who highlighted what he said were "nine scientific errors" in the film.
Mr Justice Barton yesterday said that while the film was "broadly accurate" in its presentation of climate change, he identified nine significant errors in the film, some of which, he said, had arisen in "the context of alarmism and exaggeration" to support the former US vice-president's views on climate change.” (The Guardian)
Al Gore, certainly the most vilified proponent of climate change anywhere in the world, earned most of this enmity through the success of a film he presented called An Inconvenient Truth (AIT). The film was a staid presentation of climate science to date, a round-up of research, science and projections, with many cinematic sequences employed to harness the power of the medium.

The majority of the film, covering issues like Himalayan Glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica losing ice, the severity of hurricanes and other weather phenomena, was accurate and represented the science as it stood. Since the release of the film, considerably more evidence has been found in support of the science and projections in the film.

One claim was in error, as was one attribution of a graph. The error was in the claim that climate change had caused the shrinking of Mount Kilimanjaro, although the evidence that the shrinkage was most likely caused by deforestation did not appear until after the film was made. The error of attribution was in reference to a graph of temperature and attributes it mistakenly to a Dr. Thompson, when it was actually a combination of Mann’s hockey stick and CRU surface temperature data.

The Legal Case

The film is also subject to attack on the grounds that Al Gore was prosecuted in the UK and a judge found many errors in the film. This is untrue.

The case, heard in the civil court, was brought by a school governor against the Secretary of State for Education, in an attempt to prevent the film being distributed to schools. Mr. Justice Burton, in his judgement, ordered that teaching notes accompanying the film should be modified to clarify the speculative (and occasionally hyperbolic) presentation of some issues.

Mr. Justice Burton found no errors at all in the science. In his written judgement, the word error appears in quotes each time it is used – nine points formed the entirety of his judgement - indicating that he did not support the assertion the points were erroneous. About the film in general, he said this:

17. I turn to AIT, the film. The following is clear:

i) It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme.

22. I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that:

"Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate."

The judge did identify statements that had political implications he felt needed qualification in the guidance notes for teachers, and ordered that both qualifications on the science and the political implications should be included in the notes. Al Gore was not involved in the case, was not prosecuted, and because the trial was not a criminal case, there was no jury, and no guilty verdict was handed down.

Note: the vilification of Al Gore is best understood in the context of personalisation. When opponents attack something abstract - like science - the public may not associate with the argument. By giving a name and a face and a set of behavioural characteristics - being a rich politician, for example - it is easy to create a fictional enemy through inference and association. Al Gore is a successful politician who presented a film, his training and experience suitable to the task. To invoke Gore is a way to obfuscate about climate science, for which Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame.
 
Basic rebuttal written by GPWayne

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Fukushima radiation: should we worry?

First, the scare. Michael Snyder gives a raft of facts to show that post-Fukushima, radiation levels have increased around the west coast of America. Professor Michel Chossudovsky discusses the spread of radiactive fallout from Japan under the shock title "... A Nuclear War Without A War..." - somwhat insensitively bearing in mind that Japan is the only country to have been atom-bombed. The Liberty Beacon relays official US information on the plume of water-borne radioactivity.

Then, some critical comment and reassurance. American Live Wire shows that a dramatic graphic purporting to show the spread of radiation across the Pacific is actually a map of increased wave height from the tsunami. And the ever-informative xkcd freely offers the following infographic on normal and acceptable radiation dosage (click on caption for full size picture):

http://xkcd.com/radiation/
Finally, the rational concern: as with the now-banned pesticide DDT, the most significant potential damage could be concentration of the toxic substances as they rise through the food chain. Now, shoppers in Korea are using Geiger counters to check imports of "eastern sea" fish, and as early as January 2012 the readings from seaweed were 3 times higher than background:



Fish (like tuna) that eat other fish; scavengers like crab and lobster; plankton and krill (and the whales that eat them), squid... we may be advised not to eat Pacific seafood. Already Seoul has banned imports from the Fukushima region. And it's possible that wildlife is suffering from the disaster.

What if there was a bigger disaster? There's been much excited speculation about the consequences of a potential collapse of the spent fuel storage that could result in fire and evacuation. Paul Blustein at Slate.com discusses this coolly and concludes that it could be very bad, though not apocalyptic.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Enter The Chinese Dragon - and the start of bonded servitude

Under foreign flags
Readers may be aware that I am generally untroubled by inward investment and foreign ownership of UK assets, though this is clearly not a view shared by all who visit these pages.

The Chinese aspect in this week's jaw-dropping (if highly trailed) nuclear announcement is a bit different, though.  There is the national security angle, of course, and many will be most agitated by that.  I don't dismiss it, but it's not what strikes me the hardest.  Security of supply is a non-issue: the Americans tried to pin that on Russia as a gas supplier during the Cold War and it never stuck.  Safety ?  Technology ?  All issues that can be resolved - if you count buying the ridiculous EDF / Areva EPR technology as a good idea in the first place.

More foreign flags
I am more concerned about what it signals, or rather confirms, about what I have long felt to be the probable strategic response of European governments to our parlous financial position.  A couple of years ago I wrote that when we are really up a gum tree the Chinese will have a deal for us, and we will meekly sell the farm.

This is a particularly acute risk for the UK, in my assessment.  In our semi-detatched euro-positioning, our vulnerability to having the City isolated by jealous continental and American financial authorities, and our commendable centuries-old willingness to roam the high seas, we will always be inclined to 'trade our way out of trouble'.  

Now true commercial trade is a great thing and would indeed be the ideal way forward.  But increasingly what we see is a baser trade: the prostituting of our institutions to the whim of Russian and Chinese wealth.  If they want to lavish their money on our libel courts or Mayfair shops, that's one thing.  But it won't be ending there.

Today we see the first of the mega-bargains our desperate UK politicians will enter in order to engineer short- and medium-term relief from our woes.  Faustian is just one way to describe it.  Another would be the PFI-ing of the UK economy to China.  Future generations will curse Camerosborne roundly, as they pay grotesque prices for electricity and probably a great deal more.

And the prices may not only be measured in currency.  Bonded servitude may be the term we are looking for.

This post first appeared on the Capitalists@Work blog 


All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Teaching our children to be fat diabetics?

Market Ticker commentator Karl Denninger is a convert to low-carbohydrate diets, having lost 60 pounds. He says - and I've seen this allegation elesewhere - that dietary advice in favour of starch suits commercial interests while bloating and killing the populace.

Meanwhile, around the UK, a standard part of the primary curriculum continues to promote carbs as the foundation of healthy eating, as witness this graphic from a local school:


Do we teachers know anything at all?

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

After "Silent Spring", "silent sea"

Australia's Herald newspaper reports no birds in a trans-Pacific crossing, post Fukushima.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

John Cook's Climate Change Mythbusters 18

This is part of a series reposting material from John Cook's Skeptical Science website. Although he is a physicist rather than a specialist in climate science, he is a convinced "global warmist" and tries to rebut frequently-raised objections to the theory. However, it is always possible to question the data (e.g. this valuable note about measuring temperature) and the line of argument. Please help advance the debate - with facts and logic.

What is the link between hurricanes and global warming?
What The Science Says:
There is increasing evidence that hurricanes are getting stronger due to global warming.
Climate Myth: Hurricanes aren't linked to global warming
“According to the National Hurricane Center, storms are no more intense or frequent worldwide than they have been since 1850. […] Constant 24-7 media coverage of every significant storm worldwide just makes it seem that way.” (Paul Bedard)
The current research into the effects of climate change on tropical storms demonstrates not only the virtues and transparency of the scientific method at work, but rebuts the frequent suggestion that scientists fit their findings to a pre-determined agenda in support of climate change. In the case of storm frequency, there is no consensus and reputable scientists have two diametrically opposed theories about increasing frequencies of such events.

The background to these enquiries stems from a simple observation: extra heat in the air or the oceans is a form of energy, and storms are driven by such energy. What we do not know is whether we might see more storms as a result of extra energy or, as other researchers believe, the storms may grow more intense, but the number might actually diminish.

What do the records show? According to the Pew Centre, “Globally, there is an average of about 90 tropical storms a year”. The IPCC AR4 report (2007) says regarding global tropical storms: "There is no clear trend in the annual numbers [i.e. frequency] of tropical cyclones."

But this graph, also from the Pew Centre, shows a 40% increase in North Atlantic tropical storms over the historic maximum of the mid-1950, which at the time was considered extreme:



But while the numbers are not contested, their significance most certainly is. Another study considered how this information was being collected, and research suggested that the increase in reported storms was due to improved monitoring rather than more storms actually taking place.

And to cap it off, two recent peer-reviewed studies completely contradict each other. One paper predicts considerably more storms due to global warming. Another paper suggests the exact opposite – that there will be fewer storms in the future.

What can we conclude from these studies? About hurricane frequency – not much; the jury is out, as they say. About climate change, we can say that these differing approaches are the very stuff of good science, and the science clearly isn’t settled! It is also obvious that researchers are not shying away from refuting associations with climate change, so we can assume they don’t think their funding or salaries are jeopardised by research they believe fails to support the case for AGW. The scientific method is alive and well.

Never mind the frequency, feel the width

So far, all we’ve managed is to document here is what we don’t know for sure yet. But we do know there is extra energy in the system now, so could it have any other effects on tropical storms? Here, the science is far less equivocal, and there is a broad consensus that storms are increasing in strength, or severity. This attribute, called the Power Dissipation Index, measures the duration and intensity (wind speed) of storms, and research has found that since the mid-1970s, there has been an increase in the energy of storms.

Recent research has shown that we are experiencing more storms with higher wind speeds, and these storms will be more destructive, last longer and make landfall more frequently than in the past. Because this phenomenon is strongly associated with sea surface temperatures, it is reasonable to suggest a strong probability that the increase in storm intensity and climate change are linked.

Basic rebuttal written by GPWayne

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Seven climate theories


Or is it eight... or nine?

Back in 2010 a booklet called Seven Theories of Climate Change by Joseph L. Bast was published by the Science and Public Policy Institute.

It lists seven climate change theories, one of them being the AGW CO2 theory. The booklet is worth reading not so much because it delimits what we know of climate drivers, but because it highlights how exceedingly complex the issue is. Vastly more complex than popular journalism would have us believe.

Climate science is dominated by uncertainty and there are also highly uncertain connections between these theories, so I’ll merely summarise them below. Additional theories and ideas from readers are very welcome – this is an evolving, not an evolved science.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1 Anthropogenic Global Warming
The mainstream theory of climate change heavily promoted for reasons beyond the scope of this post. Greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are said to be causing a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.

2 Bio-thermostat
The second theory of climate change is really a number of theories bundled together. Feedbacks from biological and chemical processes are said to contribute towards global temperature stability by suppressing temperature increases. These are :- 
  • Enhanced carbon sequestration by plants as atmospheric CO2 increases, thereby causing increased rates of plant growth.
  • Carbonyl sulphide (COS) produced biologically is said to form sulphate aerosols in the atmosphere which reflect solar radiation and lead to a cooling effect.
  • Biosols are biologically derived plant compounds which circulate in the atmosphere and may act as condensation nuclei for clouds. They may also diffuse solar radiation close to the ground, reducing the effect of shade and increasing photosynthesis and CO2 uptake.
  • Iodine containing compounds formed in sea air by marine algae may act like biosols.
  • Dimethyl sulphide is emitted by oceans and may be a source of cloud condensation nuclei.
  • Other aerosols. There are other natural aerosols which may also have an impact on climate.

3 Cloud Formation and Albedo
A third theory says that the climate is controlled by the formation and albedo of clouds.

4 Land Use
A fourth theory is that climate is affected by large scale changes in land use such as forestry, irrigation and building cities.

5 Ocean Currents
The fifth theory claims that climate cycles are the result of changes to ocean circulation patterns.

6 Planetary Motion
The sixth theory is that gravitational and magnetic oscillations of the solar system cause solar variations and/or other influences which change the terrestrial climate.

7 Solar Variability
The seventh theory is that solar variability accounts for most or all climate change.

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Immigration, abortion and demographics

Some days ago, I answered a post on Raedwald's site regarding the economic effect of immigration to the UK and the claimed impact on our per capita wealth. The official statistics I found told me that actually, both GDP and per capita GDP showed a rising trend until the bankers' bubble burst in 2008. That's not to say that GDP is necessarily the best measure of well-being: eating more sweets and having more fillings at the dentist's both increase GDP.

Arguing for (or against) immigration purely on economic grounds is not as simple as it might seem. A 2004 paper by David Coleman and Robert Rowthorn ("The Economic Effects of Immigration into the United Kingdom") concludes (my emphases):

"This article has examined the impact of immigration on citizens of the United Kingdom. The claim that large-scale immigration will be of great economic benefit to them is false. Some will gain, but others will lose. With respect to the existing population of the UK and their descendants, the purely economic consequences of large-scale immigration could be negative or positive, but either way they will be small. Two earlier reviews of the economic effects of immigration to the UK came to carefully argued conclusions that stopped far short of a clear endorsement of its advantages, despite being presented in collections that otherwise served to underpin the new policy (Findlay 1994; Kleinman 2003). Immigrants are the only unequivocal economic beneficiaries of migration. There is no guarantee that anyone else will be, not even the sending countries from which the migrants come.

"The more important effects of sustained large-scale immigration on the UK are demographic, social, and environmental: provoking unexpected renewed growth in population and in housing demand and risking new and intractable social divisions and a corresponding weakening of national identity and cohesion, with the prospect of an eventual eclipse of the population receiving the migrants and of its culture..."

In a self-indulgently showy phrase ("filling a demographic gap created by sterile, murderous British selfishness"), I added another dimension to the debate, namely the impact of abortion and birth control in the UK, and was challenged on it by "Wolfie". But I think I can show that this has made a difference, in more ways than one.

To help me answer, I've used Wikipedia's article on the UK's demography, and Johnston's archive on abortion statistics. The latter stops at the year 2010, so I've assumed that for the following three years the number of abortions was the same as in 2010 (i.e. 208,935). If that is so, then since 1968 (i.e. the year after abortion was legalised) there have been over 8 million "terminations". The rate of slaughter increased over the decades:



It's said that 98% of abortions are carried out for "social" reasons, so we'll assume that in all cases the children would otherwise have survived, though obviously a percentage would have died at some point (but not a very high one, in our country). Now because the overwhelming number of terminations happened in the last 50 years, all those individuals would be of working age or younger, and here is how the demographic might have looked:
 

This opens up a can of worms, as they say. For example, I don't know whether if an aborted child had been allowed to live, its mother might have chosen not to conceive another later on.

But other things being equal, we would now have a population of 71 million rather than 63 million. Or possibly not, since we would have hit a housing crisis much earlier and presumably public policy on immigration would been different.

And getting the balance between young and old isn't enough. For although there would have been an extra 4 million people of working age, that doesn't automatically mean that there would be another 4 million jobs for them to do. So policy on globalisation would have had to be rethought.

Instead, the government develops its theme of seeing people as inconvenient, and seeks to adjust the demographic equation by slaughter of the old, to boot. The Liverpool Care Pathway, the creeping program to decriminalise assisted suicide, and now the £50 bribe to GPs to save the NHS £1,000 by denying patients the ambulance ride to terminal care in hospital.

Just as, surrounded by CCTV and cyberspies, we are still told that this isn't "1984", we are sliding into dehumanisation while being reassured that we're not Nazis. My father could have spared himself the trouble of fighting the latter in North Africa and Italy; they're back, and winning.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Weekend Arts: Lowry

Source: Wiki (see terms of use)
You can always get me along to an exhibition of an artist with a clear world-view, even if it's not one I particularly like.  Only just squeaked in to the Tate Lowry, though, which closes this weekend.

No great visual revelations here - you know pretty much what you are going to get, wall after wall of it (none of his strange erotic stuff included in this show).  But there are several really illuminating things to be learned that you won't find in wiki.
  • He can properly be placed squarely in the French tradition of Utrillo and Pissarro, having been formally trained at the Manchester School of Art by the less well-known impressionist Valette.  Indeed, he (Lowry) exhibited in Paris more than in England in his early years.  (To judge from the single Valette in the show - a grand urban nocturne - the master was, *ahem* perhaps better than the student ... just a matter of taste, obviously)
  • He was a fire-watcher on a high factory roof during WW2, which readily explains the perspectives of many of his post-war paintings.
  • He was capable of taking the piss in no uncertain terms.  Two separate paintings are exhibited side-by-side without comment, one entitled 'People arriving at work' and the other 'People going home from work'.  They are essentially identical (not mirror-images), down to the colour of individuals' coats
  • He had a short 'welsh' period when he painted some more-studious-than-usual / less generic, and rather magnificent Welsh landscapes  
  • Gates and gateways clearly had significance for him (might be a fruitful opening for psychological speculation)
This is all a bit late to count as a recommendation for any except London-area readers - sorry about that - but it's meant that way.  Time well spent.

This post first appeared on the Capitalists@Work blog  


All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why I left England

Allow me to introduce myself.  New blogger on Broad Oak.  Name's Paul.

My first ten years in Stretford, Manchester, by definition makes me a city boy I guess.  My middle class conservative parents preached the conventional line of good education to get a good job, to get a good wage to get a nice house, to get a beautiful wife, to have some kids, etc.  So how come I end up in a rainforest in Australia?


This is one of 3 dams on my property of 156 acres.  I have managed to put up with this place for nearly 40 years now.

How I was corrupted from the conventional, the straight and narrow, began at school when I failed the now defunct 11+ exam and thrown onto the academic scrapheap.  I was sent to a 'secondary' school 75 years old, with an annual intake of 500 kids.  In that time 1 student had progressed to university.  I knew the system was wrong and unfair.  I did manage to pass enough exams to get to university with extraordinary help from the headmaster who taught me maths in his tiny office.

At university I was revolting.  Sorry, I mean I was revolutionary.  I joined the peace society, embraced the hippy thing which was new at that time and went barefoot with bell-bottomed trousers with bells.  Yes, a real wannabe.  The naturals didn't have to work that hard.  Somehow I got an honours degree.  Then hit the hippy trail through Asia for 5 years with an incredibly small amount of money, but learned there were millions of people who would say I was rich.  I came to Australia to work and replenish my depleted purse.  I didn't imagine how the vastness of the landscape and the welcome solitude it affords would permeate my being.

I left behind thoughts of career, any desire to achieve 'success', any need to accumulate money, and those ridiculous bell-bottomed trousers with bells.

I did have a family and raise kids, and I guess that will always be a constant in the changing fads of lifestyle.  I have always paid my way, though often barely, and take pride that I have always stayed out of debt.

I left England because it is too crowded.  It is too cold.  So many wonderful things like the pubs and the museums, the friendly and stoical people, the humour and the eccentrics, but just too crowded.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Really simple climate change

My background is chemistry, one of the most experimental sciences. No doubt that’s why I look at the empirical evidence when it comes to claims made by other sciences.

Unfortunately it seems to me that far too many pundits, both amateur and professional, rely on arguments from authority instead of empirical evidence when comes to climate change.

Of course climate experiments have an inevitable tendency towards ambiguity because climate is not a great subject for experimental science in that none of the variables can be controlled.

Yet to my mind, this is still where the climate debate should begin – experimental design. If scientists make claims about a causal link between some climate parameter and global temperatures then we should surely demand a repeatable experiment to support those claims.

Yet how do we design a controlled empirical trial of climate change theories when we can’t control any of the variables?

A really simple approach
Suppose we confine ourselves to inventing a simple trial of global temperature prediction which may be applied to any climate theory.

For example, we could say that global temperature predictions must be accurate over a period of thirty years – at the moment that would be from 1983 to 2013. I suggest thirty years because the climate appears to be crudely cyclical and some of the cycles may be long. Even thirty years is much too short, but it will do for falsification if not verification.

Therefore, according to this really simple test:-

Anyone who in 1983 predicted a pattern of global temperatures which in 2013 has turned out to be correct, then their theory passes our test. Whatever theory they used. Evidence might be a paper published in 1983 or earlier, or maybe even a newspaper article.

As far as I know that’s nobody.

No matter – we can easily shift the test period by five years. So anyone who in 1988 predicted a pattern of global temperatures which in 2018 turns out to be correct, then their theory passes our test. Whatever theory they used.

As far as I know that’s nobody again – no need to wait until 2018.

And so on and so on. In my view we don’t set the bar anywhere near high enough to assess the performance of climate theories. Yet demanding real world performance is no different from checking the fuel consumption claims of car manufacturers.

As with all things climate-related there are caveats, but one attraction of such a robustly empirical approach is that anyone may take personal ownership of their stance on climate change. There is no need to be browbeaten on this issue – it doesn’t require scientific qualifications or even expertise. Do you need engineering expertise to measure the fuel consumption of your car?

We turn around the usual relationships with climate scientists with: don’t tell me – show me. We also create a more level playing field for alternative climate theories and that is surely the most interesting aspect of raising the bar.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Immigration and inequality

Raedwald put up a piece today on the financial costs of inadequately controlled immigration under New Labour. This has been brought into national debate by statistics on unemployment among immigrants and so on. I looked around and here is my reply:

Raedwald, what you say seems intuitively right but the stats say otherwise. With the odd hiccup, both GDP and GDP-per-capita increased up to the 2008 financial collapse, also the Gini index has reduced slightly since (the story seems to be that in a poorer economy there is more equality, as it was here in the 1970s). GDP has gone down because of the b----y banks, and so has fixed capital formation. Seems the financial sector is more to blame than immigration from those points of view.

Also we have to remember that our national enthusiasm for responsibility-free intercourse has led to the butchering of millions of unborn children since 1967 (latterly female-child-focused, it seems), plus declining fertility because of contraception. The foreign workers are, to some extent, filling a demographic gap created by sterile, murderous British selfishness.

Up to the GFC there is a pattern of increasing income inequality, and the higher up the scale the wider the divergence. This is to be expected because those who have more disposable income will invest more and so increase their income and wealth further. However, median wages in the UK have not stalled as in the USA, where middle earners' real wage rates have stood still since the 1970s. This may be because our tax and benefit system redistributes more downwards than in America.

Immigration may create additional strain in (e.g.) the education system, though many immigrants value education highly and push their children to learn and aim high. They will become our doctors and lawyers.

The real national crisis is in the drift from manufacturing to the service sector, and Sir James Goldsmith warned what would happen if GATT went through. We cannot compete in a global economy, and though there are some success stories (e.g. Land Rover here in the Midlands), watch out what happens when the Chinese have learned everything from us that they need to know.

The Asians I know dislike the weirdy-beardies as much as the rest of us. What we have in the Brit Taliban element is what we had to beat off in the 17th century, i.e. Puritans.

Wish I had time to show the graphs etc but I have a job to go to tomorrow.

Fraternally,

Sackerson

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Reporting Heath's Treason (3)

In this instalment, Albert Burgess has something of a gloat at the expense of several police officers who had refused to progress his complaints of government-level treason in relation to joining the EEC in the 1970s. As with Private Eye's "Curse of Gnome", they have since met with professional misfortune. He assures me that the personal details are correct and in the public domain.

The campaign has widened to include more recent dealings with the EU - e.g. Maastricht - and other (in Albert's view) treasonable attempts to alter the British Constitution, such as Lord Berkeley's bill (covered on Broad Oak Magazine last month:  "Removal of Royal veto and a fishy smell from Fowey", 17 September 2013).

Referring to the list of complaints below, Albert explains: "Number 4 is where Jack wrote to the police telling them [that] by recording the treason allegations and prosecuting ministers they would be helping themselves over the cut backs. The other allegations up to 12 are concerning allegations against Major, Hurd and Maude over the treason at Maastricht, and Blair, Cameron and Clegg over the changes to the House of Lords. 13 concerns a bill going through Parliament which removes from the Queen the Royal Assent and [proposes] the theft of the Duchy of Cornwall from Prince Charles".

I have said to him, "Re 4: doesn't Jack's suggestion go against the bit [in the police officer's oath] about "without favour, fear, malice or ill will"? I have also commented in some detail on the English Constitution Group's aims document, which if it stands will condemn the group to remain tiny and tarnished with allegations of xenophobia, bigotry etc. This would be a shame, as the core concerns about Common Law and the British Constitution seem to me entirely valid. The document is under review.

As I have said before, the prospects of these complaints actually resulting in court cases seem slim to me, since I suspect the Attorney General would declare prosecution not to be in the public interest; but the attempts underscore the real importance of the issues: freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

After DCI Howard and his skipper had left, I wrote to Sarah Thornton the Chief Constable to ask her why her force would not apply the law. I received a reply from a DCS Tighe basically telling me to go away; this I declined to do.

I then wrote to Assistant Commissioner John Yates at Scotland Yard and submitted allegations against Superintendent Trotman, DCI Howard, DCS Tighe, and CC Sarah Thornton for individually neglect of duty and Misprision of Treason at Common Law, and collectively for Compounding Treason at Common Law.

AC Yates declined to investigate so I wrote to his boss Sir Paul Stephenson who also refused to move. But wait, it gets better; I have long said God is an Englishman and that God and I are mates.

The first thing to happen was Superintendent Trotman, now promoted to Chief Superintendent, was arrested by his own force and charged with arson and insurance fraud. Mr Trotman was reported as having an affair with a Barrister’s wife and it was alleged he set fire to his own car near her house, and when the boys in blue arrived and asked if he knew who might  have done this it was alleged he named the husband of his girlfriend. He was placed on trial and acquitted. However he was kept on suspension of other discipline charges and he no longer works for the police service.

Next to go was AC Yates; the newspapers called it “John Yates’ boob”. As a senior police officer, honest John Yates travelled the world at our expense to conferences on terrorism. Because of his rank he travelled business class, and received double air miles; these air miles are the property of the Metropolitan Police and are to be used to offset the cost of future travel. John Yates, who was also having an extramarital arrangement, was asked by his children to help them with their travel costs, which he did with the Met’s air miles. He was ordered to repay the money by Sir Paul Stephenson. But what John Yates had done was to fraudulently misappropriate air miles which equals tax payers’ money, and therefore it was stealing. So I submitted a formal allegation of fraudulent misappropriation of air miles. My sources told me John Yates was going around Scotland Yard complaining that some bastard had reported him. My allegation was not investigated but eventually John Yates resigned.

Next Sir Paul Stephenson was investigated for taking a £12,000 freebie and resigned shortly afterwards.

So three senior officers who had refused to investigate the government’s treason had all been forced to resign in disgrace. Like Crocodile Dundee, “Me and God, we be mates”.

Since then we have changed tack and started on more recent treasons and now the country’s police forces are starting to take us seriously. So join us in what is a numbers game. Report treason to your local force. At least take a look at us - www.englishconstitutiongroup.org and www.acasefortreason.org.uk - or email me at albertburgess@hotmail.com.

Police Crime Numbers for Reported Treason

As of 2 August 2013

1..Devon and Cornwall Police


Treason report recorded DCP/20120904/0473 and referred to the Met, whose reference is 6006001/12.

2.  Bedfordshire Police


URN 184 dated 04/10/2012

3.  Cambridge Police


Cambridge police referred the report of treason to the Met on 22 March 2012.
Crime Related Incident number CC-22032012-0170 and Met reference is 6006001/12.

4.  Cheshire Police

Jack’s comments regarding police reopening past investigations about politicians’ paedophilia in return for Conservatives’ attack on police pensions,  salaries and conditions. Given CRI 206 22/01/13

5.  Durham Police


Crime Related Incident number DHM-01112012-0295 on 2 November 2012. (Maastricht Treason evidence).

6.  Dyfed Powys Police


Treason report recorded and referred to the Met on 13 March as number MI/159/11.
Met reference as yet unknown. Dyfed Powys Police are currently uncommunicative on this.

7.  Hertfordshire Police

 
Have logged this under CRI reference number URN356 of 03/10/12 and forwarded to the Met. Also logged under CRI number Hi, Chaps-05062013-0446 and forwarded to Met 12 June 2013.
 

8.  Lancashire Police


Treason report recorded in August as number (still to hear back from them) and referred to the Met (whose reference is as yet unknown). Lancashire Police are currently uncommunicative on this.

9.  Leicestershire Police

Reported by Paul Talbot-Jenkins that Leicestershire Police told him they’d forwarded his treason allegations to the Met.  His email dated 20/02/2013.

10.  Wiltshire Police


Recorded and referred to Home Office National Crime Registrar and the Crown Prosecution Service on 16 March 2012 as Crime Related Incident (CRI) number 5411010866. (Case reference numbers requested and as yet still unknown).

Wiltshire police HO and CPS contacts are :-
Steve Bond - Home Office National Crime Registrar, (tel. 0207 0350280)
Katie Waterman, Senior Policy Advisor, Strategy and Policy Directorate in the CPS.

11.  West Mercia Police


Report of Maastricht Treason forwarded to West Mercia Police Legal Department on 8 October 2012

12.  Warwickshire Police

Reported by Christopher Roswell to Chief Constable Andy Parker ref AP/DC/409-13 late July 1013. (Gueterbock Treason  -  Removal of Queen’s consent and Theft of Duchy of Cornwall)

13. Wiltshire Police

Reported by post to Wilts Chief Constable 31 August 2013.  He told me to report it to the Met.  I replied demanding he pass it to the Met. 27 September 2013.  He passed it to the Met on 2 Oct under ref. 6548305/13 which went to the local Borough of Westminster. (See paper letter).

_________________________________

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bad Science: Michael Eisen and sloppy peer review

The following is reposted with the kind permission of the author, Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. The original appeared on his blog on October 3 with the title "I confess, I wrote the Arsenic DNA paper to expose flaws in peer-review at subscription based journals."

The ease with which substandard research papers slip through the reviewing system and into publication is worrying in its implications, since (for example) we are in the middle of very expensive programs to tackle what many scientists are telling us is the threat of climate change. Clearly more work needs to be done in quality control if we are to retain our confidence in scientific expertise.

In 2011, after having read several really bad papers in the journal Science, I decided to explore just how slipshod their peer-review process is. I knew that their business depends on publishing “sexy” papers. So I created a manuscript that claimed something extraordinary - that I’d discovered a species of bacteria that uses arsenic in its DNA instead of phosphorus. But I made the science so egregiously bad that no competent peer reviewer would accept it. The approach was deeply flawed – there were poor or absent controls in every figure. I used ludicrously elaborate experiments where simple ones would have done. And I failed to include a simple, obvious experiment that would have definitively shown that arsenic was really in the bacteria’s DNA. I then submitted the paper to Science, punching up the impact the work would have on our understanding of extraterrestrials and the origins of life on Earth in the cover letter. And what do you know? They accepted it!

My sting exposed the seedy underside of “subscription-based” scholarly publishing, where some journals routinely lower their standards – in this case by sending the paper to reviewers they knew would be sympathetic - in order to pump up their impact factor and increase subscription revenue. Maybe there are journals out there who do subscription-based publishing right – but my experience should serve as a warning to people thinking about submitting their work to Science and other journals like it.

OK – this isn’t exactly what happened. I didn’t actually write the paper. Far more frighteningly, it was a real paper that contained all of the flaws described above that was actually accepted, and ultimately published, by Science.

I am dredging the arsenic DNA story up again, because today’s Science contains a story by reporter John Bohannon describing a “sting” he conducted into the peer review practices of open access journals. He created a deeply flawed paper about molecules from lichens that inhibit the growth of cancer cells, submitted it to 304 open access journals under assumed names, and recorded what happened. Of the 255 journals that rendered decisions, 157 accepted the paper, most with no discernible sign of having actually carried out peer review. (PLOS ONE, rejected the paper, and was one of the few to flag its ethical flaws).

The story is an interesting exploration of the ways peer review is, and isn’t, implemented in today’s biomedical publishing industry. Sadly, but predictably, Science spins this as a problem with open access. Here is their press release:
Spoof Paper Reveals the “Wild West” of Open-Access Publishing
A package of news stories related to this special issue of Science includes a detailed description of a sting operation — orchestrated by contributing news correspondent John Bohannon — that exposes the dark side of open-access publishing. Bohannon explains how he created a spoof scientific report, authored by made-up researchers from institutions that don’t actually exist, and submitted it to 304 peer-reviewed, open-access journals around the world. His hoax paper claimed that a particular molecule slowed the growth of cancer cells, and it was riddled with obvious errors and contradictions. Unfortunately, despite the paper’s flaws, more open-access journals accepted it for publication (157) than rejected it (98). In fact, only 36 of the journals solicited responded with substantive comments that recognized the report’s scientificproblems. (And, according to Bohannon, 16 of those journals eventually accepted the spoof paper despite their negative reviews.) The article reveals a “Wild West” landscape that’s emerging in academic publishing, where journals and their editorial staffs aren’t necessarily who or what they claim to be. With his sting operation, Bohannon exposes some of the unscrupulous journals that are clearly not based in the countries they claim, though he also identifies some journals that seem to be doing open-access right.
Although it comes as no surprise to anyone who is bombarded every day by solicitations from new “American” journals of such-and-such seeking papers and offering editorial positions to anyone with an email account, the formal exposure of hucksters out there looking to make a quick buck off of scientists’ desires to get their work published is valuable. It is unacceptable that there are publishers – several owned by big players in the subscription publishing world – who claim that they are carrying out peer review, and charging for it, but no doing it.

But it’s nuts to construe this as a problem unique to open access publishing, if for no other reason than the study, didn’t do the control of submitting the same paper to subscription-based publishers (UPDATE: The author, Bohannon emailed to say that, while his original intention was to look at all journals, practical constraints limited him to OA journals, and that Science played no role in this decision). We obviously don’t know what subscription journals would have done with this paper, but there is every reason to believe that a large number of them would also have accepted the paper (it has many features in common with the arsenic DNA paper afterall). Like OA journals, a lot of subscription-based journals have businesses based on accepting lots of papers with little regard to their importance or even validity. When Elsevier and other big commercial publishers pitch their “big deal”, the main thing they push is the number of papers they have in their collection. And one look at many of their journals shows that they also will accept almost anything.

None of this will stop anti-open access campaigners (hello Scholarly Kitchen) from spinning this as a repudiation for enabling fraud. But the real story is that a fair number of journals who actually carried out peer review still accepted the paper, and the lesson people should take home from this story not that open access is bad, but that peer review is a joke. If a nakedly bogus paper is able to get through journals that actually peer reviewed it, think about how many legitimate, but deeply flawed, papers must also get through. Any scientist can quickly point to dozens of papers – including, and perhaps especially, in high impact journals – that are deeply, deeply flawed – the arsenic DNA story is one of many recent examples. As you probably know there has been a lot of smoke lately about the “reproducibility” problem in biomedical science, in which people have found that a majority of published papers report facts that turn out not to be true. This all adds up to showing that peer review simply doesn’t work.

And the real problem isn’t that some fly-by-night publishers hoping to make a quick buck aren’t even doing peer review (although that is a problem). While some fringe OA publishers are playing a short con, subscription publishers are seasoned grifters playing a long con. They fleece the research community of billions of dollars every year by convincing them of something manifestly false – that their journals and their “peer review” process are an essential part of science, and that we need them to filter out the good science – and the good scientists – from the bad. Like all good grifters playing the long con, they get us to believe they are doing something good for us – something we need. While they pocket our billions, with elegant sleight of hand, then get us to ignore the fact that crappy papers routinely get into high-profile journals simply because they deal with sexy topics.

But unlike the fly by night OA publishers who steal a little bit of money, the subscription publishers’ long con has far more serious consequences. Not only do they traffic in billions rather than thousands of dollars and denying the vast majority of people on Earth access to the findings of publicly funded research, the impact and glamour they sell us to make us willing participants in their grift has serious consequences. Every time they publish because it is sexy, and not because it is right, science is distorted. It distorts research. It distorts funding. And it often distorts public policy.

To suggest – as Science (though not Bohannon) are trying to do – that the problem with scientific publishing is that open access enables internet scamming is like saying that the problem with the international finance system is that it enables Nigerian wire transfer scams.

There are deep problems with science publishing. But the way to fix this is not to curtain open access publishing. It is to fix peer review.

First, and foremost, we need to get past the antiquated idea that the singular act of publication – or publication in a particular journal – should signal for all eternity that a paper is valid, let alone important. Even when people take peer review seriously, it is still just represents the views of 2 or 3 people at a fixed point in time. To invest the judgment of these people with so much meaning is nuts. And its far worse when the process is distorted – as it so often is – by the desire to publish sexy papers, or to publish more papers, or because the wrong reviewers were selected, or because they were just too busy to do a good job. If we had, instead, a system where the review process was transparent and persisted for the useful life of a work (as I’ve written about previously), none of the flaws exposed in Bohannon’s piece would matter.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why we should switch to Land Value Taxation, by Mark Wadsworth

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania USA - the "Georgist" town is an LVT success story.

There are plenty of articles explaining why taxes on the rental value of urban land/location* are the best kind of taxes, some of them start with the underlying moral arguments – that land is a free gift of nature or that 95% of location values are created by the whole of society (“Location, location, location”) – and some skip straight to the positive outcomes (more efficient use and allocation of land, no deadweight costs).

(* Please note that agriculture measured by farm gate prices is only one per cent of the UK economy and the rental value of all farmland, three quarters of the UK by area is only one per cent of the total rental value of urban/developed land. It is barely worthwhile collecting taxes on the value of farmland, this is a non-issuer).

Just for a change let’s start in the middle and look at this from a purely pragmatic point of view and compare and contrast three basic kinds of tax in terms of these five headings:

i)       assessability

ii)     collectability

iii)   dead weight costs

iv)   ability to pay

v)     willingness to pay

I’ll put numbers on all this in a later post – it is most illuminating if we assume that the government rolled all existing “taxes” (i.e. ignoring duties and rents in the narrower sense) into one single tax which would have to raise about £450 billion a year – this post is just to illustrate the principles.

Poll tax

i) These are easy to assess, it is simply the total tax revenue required divided by the number of adults obliged to pay it.

 ii) Collectability is appalling, as we well know.

 iii) Ignoring the enormous costs of chasing all the people who can’t afford to pay, poll taxes score well in terms of dead weight costs as they are not a tax on income, so they are an incentive to earn as much as you can rather than being a disincentive.

iv) They score appallingly on ability to pay, by definition, as there is no correlation between the tax and your assets or income.

v) Everybody hates paying tax. If the entire government were funded by a Poll Tax then the top third or quarter of people by assets or income would do well out of the system if everybody pays up, but they would have the same incentive to cheat as anybody else by e.g. claiming to be non-resident.

Further, there is no correlation between the amount you pay and the benefits you receive from society as a whole. S successful stockbroker who takes the subsidised train out to his four-bed detached house in the catchment area of a good state school in Surrey clearly receives far more benefits than an unemployed ex-steel worker in a council flat on Tyneside.

 Taxes in turnover, employment, profits and income

 These include Value Added Tax, National Insurance, corporation tax and income tax. Please note that VAT is not a harmless tax on “consumption”, it is a tax on gross profits of unfavoured productive businesses and is simply not applied to most profits derived from land ownership or banking.

 i) Assessability is not impossible, as we know, but most businesses have to cope with four layers of tax on income and split up their turnover, expenses and residual payments out into VAT-able and exempt turnover (or expenses); into payments to employees and the self-employed and into taxable and non-taxable profits (reinvested profits are by definition matched by capital spending or capital allowances). Individuals have to go through the same rigmarole.

 ii) Collectability. There is every incentive to avoid taxes. If it is simple evasion then economic activity still takes place, but the residual rates of tax have to be increased on those who are not in a position to hide their income (or who are just too honest for their own good). We know that even in the UK – which has quite a good record of compliance) there are huge amounts of evaded and unpaid taxes.

iii) Dead weight costs. These are enormous of course. These costs refer to the huge but invisible costs of all that economic activity which simply does not take place because of taxes. It is estimated that every 1% on VAT costs 100,000 jobs, for example, the impact of the other taxes in isolation is not quite as dramatic, but it all adds up. So businesses go out of business (or never get off the ground) and we end up with mass unemployment. The total deadweight costs are ten or fifteen per cent of GDP, i.e. between £100 and £200 billion a year (more than enough to eradicate our trade deficit and to turn it into a comfortable surplus).

iv) Ability to pay. These taxes score relatively well on that front, by definition. But remember that if you look at all these taxes in the round, the marginal rate for our median taxpayer (basic rate employee not entitled to tax credits working for a VATable business) is fifty per cent, with much higher rates for higher and additional rate taxpayers and the highest rates of all for those receiving means tested benefits. Again, the people who lose out most are those who pay little or nothing in cash terms – in other words all the failed businesses and the unemployed.

 v) Willingness to pay. Although most people comply, this is only grudgingly –they are too honest to cheat and there is a vague understanding that somebody has to pay for all the things the government does. But there is absolutely no correlation between the amount of tax you pay and the benefits you receive from the government. If anything there is a negative correlation because the highest earners receive nothing in cash benefits and are more likely to pay extra for private security, private health insurance or private education.

Taxes on the rental value of land

Land Value Tax in all its guises scores well on all fronts and seem to combine the best aspects of the other two types:

i)                   Assessability. Is easy. As a layman, you cannot begin to guess how many adults live in a particular home, how much they earn or what the turnover and profits or a particular business are – it requires the force of law to make people disclose all these things.

But working out the rental value of each site is very easy; all you need to do is to know selling prices and rental values of a reasonably large sample of residential and commercial premises in each smaller defined area. You then subtract the rental value of similar premises in the cheapest area and the balance is the “site premium”, i.e. the “location, location, location” value which is generated by society as a whole.

 
ii)                 Collectability is also a doddle. Whoever is registered as the owner at HM Land Registry has to pay the tax each year. If that owner does not pay, then the arrears can easily be registered as a charge and once two or three years’ arrears have been built up, the title is auctioned off and the arrears withheld from the sales proceeds. For sure, some land owners are not yet registered at HM Land Registry, but that is far from saying that the land itself is not registered and this has never been a hindrance to collecting Council Tax or Business Rates, which have the highest collection rates of all taxes at 98% or so.
 
iii)               Taxes on the rental value have zero dead weight costs – like a Poll Tax - as they are not related to private income or output. There is plenty of evidence to show that they tend to stimulate the economy because land and buildings will always be put to their most efficient use, in other words it would be too expensive to keep valuable urban sites out of use or to allow buildings to fall derelict. If taxes on land replace taxes on output and employment etc, then this would shed the economy of the existing dead weight costs.

iv)               The traditional main argument against taxes on the rental value of land is “ability to pay”, the Poor Widow Bogey. They say that the tax would hit the “asset rich, cash poor”. This is a non-argument in practical terms because it would be easy to give such people discounts, exemptions or even better, the opportunity to defer and roll up the tax to be repaid on death.

It is also only a transitional issue and does not apply to the working population (the “wealth creators”) anyway.  By and large, low-income people move into cheap houses and high-income people move into expensive houses. Each purchaser will take the tax into account when deciding which house he wants to buy and will reduce the amount he is prepared to take out as a mortgage accordingly, so in real terms, the tax costs him nothing. It is the same with business tenants – they work out how much premises are worth to them, subtract the Business Rates and pay the smaller balance as rent to the landlord.

v)                 Willingness to pay. Today’s land owners spit feathers about Business Rates and Council Tax, and we know that the banks and land owners (and their stooges in the press, Parliament and academia) have been are running a highly successful anti-LVT campaign for a century.

But look at in terms of tenants and the next generation of purchasers. Unlike taxes on income, there is a perfect correlation between what you pay and what you get. If you are willing and able to pay more, you get somewhere nicer, if you are unwilling or unable to pay, you get somewhere not so nice – but this is exactly the same allocation as under current rules whereby land/location values are collected privately by the current land owner when he rents or sells.

This is absolutely no different to owners of big cars paying much more in VAT on the new car, in fuel duty or road fund licence. If we go with the fiction that VAT is borne by the purchaser, does anybody complain that VAT on new cars is unfair, as it does not relate to “ability or willingness to pay”? Of course not – if you can afford a new BMW, you pay £10,000 in VAT and if you buy a run of the mill family saloon, you only pay £4,000 VAT. If you can only afford a second hand car, you pay little or nothing in VAT.

Summary
 
Land Value Tax has all the merits of a Poll Tax – it is easy to assess and has no dead weight costs, but beats it hands down in terms of collectability, ability and willingness to pay (there is a match between amount paid and benefits received).

Land Value Tax has all the merits of taxes on income as in the medium term as it relates to ability to pay (once everybody has “right sized”) but none of the disadvantages – it is easier to assess and collect and has no dead weight costs. It also beats it hands down in terms of “willingness to pay”.

So besides the moral or philosophical arguments and the fact that LVT leads to better outcomes (an LVT-only world works better than a world without government or taxes), it is quite simply the case that LVT beats all other forms of tax in a simple everyday pragmatic sense.


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