Computer Modeling and Climate Change

April 17th, 2009

When I studied Computer Science way back in the 80s, we were constantly impressed with the lesson “GIGO,” which means “garbage in, garbage out.”  It means that if your input data is no better than what I clean out of my pigs’ cages every couple of weeks, then your output (the whole purpose of writing software is to generate output) is useless.  That lesson is still impressed upon students today, just as it has been impressed upon students since programming languages were originally invented back in the 1940s and 50s.

For example, take a simple algebraic equation like “x^2(2 + 2y) = z” where “z” must have an upper limit of say 78 and a lower limit of 72.  You kind of have to do some funny things on a computer to represent a simple equation, and the above equation should be read in plain English as “x squared times the result of 2 plus the result of 2 times y = somewhere between 72 and 78.”  This gets into a branch of the Calculus known as “limits,” which every freshman studying engineering, physics, chemistry, mathematics, or computer science must master.  It isn’t complicated for those so inclined to study such things, and there are tens of thousands of such students in any given year in this country.

So, back to our equation.  Where “x” is any value greater than 9, “y” will have to be smaller than 1 (9^2=81, already larger than the answer range).  This train of thought applies to all equations where a variable is raised to any exponent.  The larger the exponent, the greater the possibilities of a wide range of values for an answer.  Or, the more variables raised to exponents, the more possibilities of a wide range of values for an answer.

The more complicated the equation, the greater the possibility for error in the answer.  I wrote some really twisted logic for insurance companies on my last couple of jobs.  Lots of eyes reviewed the code as well as the output.  And the thing was, we knew what all of the formulae were—they are something of an industry standard in insurance, developed over decades by brilliant mathematicians (called actuaries in the insurance biz).  No such standard exists for global climate modeling.

The problem with global climate computer modeling is that the formulae that are being used are simply educated best guesses.  We do not know all of the variables that affect global climate, nor do we know the absolute ranges for all of the variables that we do know about.  The formulae are large and complicated.  And they are not accurate.  Any useful software must be tested and tested and tested.  The only way to test global climate modeling software is to take the climate data that we already have and apply it retroactively.  Put another way, take the best model(s) we have today, then use the data accumulated up to maybe 10 years ago, and finally see if those answers jive with the climate data we have collected in the last 10 years.  Invariably, and to me predictably, the models are not “predicting” with any degree of accuracy what we have actually been experiencing.

In the language of the logician, there are 3 kinds of data:  the known, the known unknown, and the unknown unknown.  Or, there are things that we know with absolute certainty, there are things that we know about but do not have all the concrete data for, and then things that we are not even aware of that exist.  For example, we know with absolute certainty that it takes 1 calorie of energy to heat 1 cubic centimeter of pure water by 1 degree Celsius.  We also know that the Iranians have a nuclear project underway, we just don’t know exactly where they are in development.   We have some good ideas and can make some fairly accurate guesses as to where they are, but we don’t know with certainty.  I cannot even hazard a guess for an example of “unknown unknowns” because how can one make a guess on something about which he is ignorant of its very existence?

It is this 3rd category that is the sticking point for computer climate models, and it is why I place absolutely no value in anything these “scientists” are saying.  Even the category of “known unknowns” is problematic for climate modeling because any answer computed off of such data may be, and is likely to be, in error.  You wouldn’t trust your gas gauge on a 500 mile road trip if the possible range of MPG values was somewhere between 5 and 30, would you?  You wouldn’t even begin to be able to predict when you should stop and fill the tank, let alone be able to budget your money for the trip.  Yet we are being called on to make sacrifices, via taxation and potentially drastic lifestyle alterations of course, on the output from these computer models that are no more reliable than they are.

A scientist admits, always, the possibility of error.  A politician does not.

It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master. —  Ayn Rand

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16 Responses to “Computer Modeling and Climate Change”

  1. John Q |

    I understand what you mean, but isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? If we cannot know everything that should go in the models it would make sense to use what we have and make policies based on that. If we’re wrong and the global warming is not that bad, the stuff we do will still be good for the environment and economy. Like using less oil keeps the air cleaner and keeps us from depending so much on foreign countries with oil.

  2. Brian |

    Safe from what? The models are scientifically unreliable. What these people are doing is no different than what fortune tellers have been doing for centuries. Are you willing to risk your very freedom on such unscientific speculation?

    It was the exact same mindset that threatened the “heretic” Galileo with excommunication and execution.

    The only real tool that mankind has is his ability to think rationally. We are slow of foot; have no sharp claws; small, dull teeth in a mouth that doesn’t open very wide; poor hearing; poor vision; weak sense of smell. All we have to us is a rational brain. Do not vitiate your rational mind to people that are irrational, people who are simply about power.

    Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom: it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. William Pitt

  3. Tom |

    Brian, I have the same concerns about Global Warming. As you say, it’s based on unproven models using incomplete and sometimes erroneous data. What’s worse, it has become almost a religion for the left, a matter of faith more than fact. Anytime an issue is supported by most of the left and opposed by most of the right, it’s clearly political. That worries me as much as the poor models.

    I don’t see anything wrong with environmentally sound policies, especially those that make us less dependent on foreign oil. Those policies should include increased access to and use of our own oil reserves, both on-shore and off-shore. In addition, we need more new and modern refineries. But these policies should stand on their own merit instead of being designed in the extreme to combat what may be largely imaginary Global Warming.

  4. Brian |

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m all for it as a matter of personal choice, not as a matter of force (aka “government policy”). I’m a fairly regular reader of Mother Earth News, if you can believe it. They have some great information regarding homesteading, gardening, livestock, home-generated electricity, and the like.

    All I can do when they bring up their politics, though, is just shake my head and laugh.

    I live the way I do because I chose it, not because it was forced on me or because there is some consensus that it is better. It is my way, and that’s enough.

    I am dubious of consensus. Just 60 years ago, it was the consensus that we would never be able to travel faster than sound. Just 70 years ago, it was accepted that ENIAC was the end-all be-all, and we would never have a use for more than a handful of them. It was the consensus 500 years ago that the earth was flat and the center of the universe. About 2000 years ago, there was a consensus that the body and temperament were controlled by the 4 humours.

    Today, we are expected to accept the “scientific consensus” regarding anthropogenic global warming, yet we have verifiable data that the earth has been, at times, much warmer than it is now, warm enough to support reptilian and amphibian life throughout most of the world. Warm-blooded or not, animals without fur or feathers require at least a temperate environment in which to survive.

  5. Kevin |

    Don’t look now but even the notoriously anti-science Governor Palin has recently had to admit that Alaska is warming and that it is cause for concern.

    It is increasingly just the modern version of flat-earthers who deny global warming. And even they are beginning to hedge their bets, as evidenced by Palin’s apparent change of heart.

    It’s noteworthy that the same scientific community which has reached consensus regarding anthropogenic global warming is the very same scientists who represent the “scientific consensus” regarding the fact that the planet has gone through non-athropogenic global warming. Indeed, many of them are the exact same scientists who produced the incontrovertable evidence of past non-athropogenic global warming. Yet we are supposed to place our complete faith in the latter while casting jaundiced eyes as the former – when BOTH are the exact same experts using the exact same scientific method!

    I submit that the only remaining *scientific* arguments are the degree to which anthropogenic causes are contributing to the undeniable global warming we are experiencing and what level of a threat does present global warming represent to the survival of the human species.

  6. Brian |

    I never said it wasn’t warming. I see no valid evidence that the source is anthropogenic.

    The fact that these politician/scientists admit that the world has been warmer in the past is irrelevant. Anyone that has ever heard of dinosaurs can say the same thing. There is simply no getting past the unverifiable computer models, which are incapable of “predicting” recent global weather patterns based on evidence that we already have.

    When someone can come up with a computer model that can accurately “predict” what has already occurred, I will be inclined to listen.

    I am far more inclined to believe that global climate has much more to do with sunspot activity, as detailed in this report. The report indicates that by 2015, we may enter another mini ice age.

    I firmly believe that we are here as stewards, conservators of the world that we inherited. There’s a great article in this month’s Mother Earth News regarding that very thing as it relates to grass-fed livestock. The article doesn’t name names, but I will. Companies like ADM and Monsanto (and believe me, there are plenty of others) are so firmly entrenched at Capital Hill that I’m not sure what can be done.

    This problem, as with so many others, is a direct result of a powerful federal government that has the ability to grant favors. In this case, it is welfare for soybean and corn growers. When enough people realize that government is only capable of granting favors to one party by injuring another party, then this sort of foolishness will end, and not one second before. There aren’t but a few congresscritters that are innocent of this. Interestingly enough, they are libertarians that hold office as republicans. But make no mistake, the GOP as a whole is every bit as deep in this as the Democrats are. Out of 535 congresscritters, you probably couldn’t find 20 that are true fiscal conservatives.

    Go back and reread what I wrote a while back about the false dichotomy of L v R and see if it doesn’t begin to make more sense.

    Understand that ADM, Monsanto, et al are not the enemy, it is a powerful government that allows companies like them to flourish which is the enemy of us all.

    This is an excerpt from George Washington’s farewell address in 1796:

    I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

    This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

    The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty…

    …Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

  7. Tom |

    Kevin, I think the last paragraph of your comment is exactly right. We don’t know to what extent AGW contributes to overall warming, and we don’t know what the level of threat of current warming really is. Is AGW minimal and the sun much more responsible, as many scientists maintain? Do volcanoes and cow flatulence contribute more than man? Is the recent warming, however much there really is, just part of a never-ending cycle of self-correcting warming and cooling, or is it something different and ominous?

    It worries me that some people are prepared to take draconian action that would seriously damage our society, our economy, and our entire way of life, even though no one really knows what is going on or how serious it is.

    What worries me even more is that attitudes on global warming are so partisan. Liberals/Democrats are convinced that unless we re-order our entire society, we’re all doomed within (fill in the blank) years. Conservatives/Republicans are certain it’s all a hoax dreamed up by socialists to enslave us all. Libertarian agrarians (sorry, Brian) seem to believe that everybody should leave everybody else alone, especially the government, and let us just return to the land.

    Well, I don’t see the level of threat the liberals see (and I read a whole lot about it), and I don’t think it’s a socialist plot like the conservatives seem to. I’m also not about to start slaughtering pigs and milking goats (sorry again, Brian). So, as I said earlier, I’m happy to support environmentally sound policies that also promote energy independence. Beyond that, forget it until there’s valid evidence that we must do more.

  8. Kevin |

    Yeah, that’s pretty much my take too. Something is happening and it warrants our attention. But just what and to what degree? The jury is out on that as far as I can tell. It makes no more sense to me to emulate Chicken Little than to emulate the common caricature of the Ostrich.

    In any case, to what degree it is human caused or assisted seems almost, dare I say academic, except to the extent that current and near-future actions might be constructive in ameliorating the worst of it. But even without any human aid, from my admittedly non-ivory-tower level of understanding, it seems to me that strictly natural global warming potentially poses a very real threat to humanity in that it poses a direct (potential) threat to our technological way of life. We glibly live at the mercy of our own technological advances more than I think many of us would like to admit. Not that running for the hills is therefore the only reasonable course of action. It’s just that none of this is simplistic in implication.

  9. Brian |

    Careful, Tom. That last paragraph has you sounding like a libertarian. [wink]

    I’m not asking that everyone become exactly like I am. As I indicated in my response on 19APR09 0147hrs, I made the decision to do what I do because it pleases me, and I do not need any other justification so long as what I do doesn’t bring quantifiable harm to someone else.

    Kevin said We glibly live at the mercy of our own technological advances more than I think many of us would like to admit. Can I get an “Amen” from the audience.?

    Actually, I believe that it is even worse that what you have said. Technology has become so ubiquitous that too many people believe it is their divine right to have access to it, whether or not they can even pay for it.

    I love technology because it makes life so much easier.

    Take something as “simple” as refrigeration, one of the most important inventions in the history of civilization, for example. How many people do you know that do not take their refrigerator and freezer for granted? Refrigeration means that I do not have to salt or cure meat. I can if I want to, but I do not have to. It means I do not have to can vegetables, though if I want to, the option is there. It means I do not have to immediately throw out leftovers. How many lives and how much money have been saved since the advent of refrigeration?

    There are thousands of things all around us which make life more pleasant and convenient, and aren’t really necessities. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will no longer live “at the mercy of our own technological advances.”

  10. Kevin |

    Brian, I don’t know if you’re into Sci-Fi or not, but I’m just finishing my second read-through of John C Wright’s incredible The Golden Age trilogy which I’d read several years ago. The central theme he explores is whether technology serves man or whether man serves technology. He plays out both equations in the form of two divergant civilizations who made fundamentally different choices when faced with that core question. As a subtext he explores whether or not artificial intelligences (a logical extension of unrestrained technological advances) serve humanity, and if not, whether creative computer engineering can help or make it worse.

    What I said in my previous comment was colored heavily by the fact that I’ve been re-reading this trilogy over the last couple weeks. That’s not to say that I wasn’t already aware that we rely upon technology to a degree that we take it for granted. I mean look at us! We’re typing our thoughts onto a computer and into cyberspace! It’s just that the issue was already front and center in my mind as I read Tom’s comment.

    Anywho… if you’re into Sci-Fi then I think you’d like these books. Wright is a master story-teller regardless of the subject. So, these books are not just intellectually/philosophically intriguing, the storyline is a lot of fun too.

  11. Brian |

    Love Sci-Fi. I’m a big Robert Heinlein Fan. His and Ayn Rand’s philosophy have probably influenced me more than everyone else put together, and I do have lots of other favorites besides them.

    Other Sci-Fi writers I’ve enjoyed were Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. I thought the original movie “Dune” was simply atrocious, but the Sci-Fi channel’s miniseries was fantastic.

  12. doris |

    So you must prove it without a doubt to believe it? I believe there is global warming, but caution should be used in going ape-poopoo over it. I’m not ready to ride a horse or bike everywhere I go. Although the horse is contributing to warming with horse apples, I did ride my horse to town once to check the mail to see if my check had come in. I couldn’t afford to purchase gas. That was long ago, thank my God.

    I know just how much gas reserves we do have, plenty to last us about 50 years, believe it or not. Holding on to it creates high gas prices and mass fears of running out, thus making us use more. Human nature—if you think it’s gonna run out, you use, use, use. When there’s plenty, you just don’t really need it, in all things.

  13. Brian Bagent |

    No, its validity must be scientifically demonstrated in order to proceed legally. You are free to believe or not, but good law is necessarily bound to good science where science is at issue, and what we are being fed is not good science.

    Be careful, though, for the top people that are promoting anthropogenic global warming (Al Gore, for one example) want very much for you to ride a bike everywhere you go.

  14. doris |

    I love Al Gore. I know, Tom. And probably Brian, too. Sorry. That said, he doesn’t ride a bike, oddly enough, most of the sky is falling group, don’t live green, at all? He is a brilliant man, but a tad too extreme, inconveniently. We leave our science to the scientists, but they all disagree, what now? Don’t worry about it until we are dead and gone, our greatgrandkids problem? Sad, but that is what will happen. Will they have trees, polar bears, lions, bees, wolves, tigers, and will most certainly not have mustangs roaming free, like they do now in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and other places. There must be something we can do, aside from sticking our heads in the sand? I say believe on the side of the best thing for the earth, and try harder to conserve, no not me, you.

  15. Brian |

    Some information on Al Gore you might not be aware of, Doris.

    The Gore family (Al Gore, Sr.) has VERY close ties to the Communist Revolution of 1917 in Russia. Al Senior was a long-time friend of committed communist Armand Hammer (yes, the one of Baking Soda fame), the same Armand Hammer that was actually in Russia at that time. The same Armand Hammer who was the only American that I am aware of with a travel visa to the USSR during the days of the Cold War. The same Armand Hammer that founded Occidental Petroleum (incidentally, Occidental Petroleum owns more oil wells in Texas than everybody else put together). Al Senior was made by Armand Hammer, and was a close personal and political friend of Hammer. After retiring from the Senate, Al Senior was on the board of Occidental. And, unless Al Junior has sold his Occidental stock (valued in excess of $1 million before the stock market tanked recently – don’t know what it is now), he makes more money off of the earnings of that stock than you or I make in a year.

    The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Al Gore is just another in a long line of hypocritical, prevaricating watermelons (green on the outside, communist red on the inside).

    As I have said previously, do not look to any of these people for leadership – not democrats or republicans. That is the polar opposite of the real relationship. They are our representatives, which means we are superior and they are subordinate. To place them in the role of “leader” is to make them superior and us inferior.

    The relationship should be no different than that that exists between company owner and sales rep. The sales REPRESENTATIVE does the owner’s bidding. If the sales rep does not, the he gets fired. The sales rep does not dictate to the owner how the company is to be run, just as our elected representatives should not be telling us how to live our lives. They are not better than us. They certainly are not smarter than we are. They may, perhaps, be more sophisticated in some respects, but look at what their sophistication has wrought: an $11 trillion debt that cannot be paid off without rapid hyperinflation at some point down the line.

    I can trust to my own councils, as well you should, too. Tell the politicians to go bugger off.

  16. Opinion Forum » Blog Archive » Global Climate Change |

    […] seems I may have been a bit premature in agreeing with a respondent to my previous assertions regarding global […]

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