Posts Tagged Eli Rabett

Monckton: still digging for failure Gareth Renowden Jul 14

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Stoat alerts me to Monckton’s response (pdf — be warned, it’s an industrial grade whinge) to the epic debunking of one of his 2009 US tour talks by John Abraham . This prompts Eli the lovable lagomorph to crowd-source answers to the 500 questions the potty peer poses for Abraham by way of “reply”. I have been advised by certain sources (who might be expected to know) that the peer is indulging in a little inflation of his credentials. So, let’s have a go at #126…

Monckton objects to being described as having “no background in science”, and advances the following paragraph as evidence to the contrary:

Since I gave advice on a wide range of scientific and technical matters to the British Prime Minister for four years, and ran a successful technical consultancy in the field of public administration for two decades, and have twice very profitably exploited a previously-unsuspected wrinkle in the laws of probabilistic combinatorics, and I have published what is on any view a heavily mathematical paper on the determination of climate sensitivity in a reviewed journal, on what rational basis did you consider it appropriate publicly to disseminate — without any qualification or verification — Dr. Keigwin’s unscientific guess that I had ’no background in science’? Is this an instance of the care you take, as ’a scientist’, to verify your facts?

It’s instructive to look at Monckton’s incredibly detailed* curriculum vitae (don’t worry, the only Latin in this post), as published by the political party of which he is joint deputy leader, the somewhat-to-the-right-of-Attila the Hun UK Independence Party (UKIP). From that we can see that he obtained 7 O-Levels (English Language, English Literature, French, Latin, Greek, Elementary Mathematics, Additional Mathematics — the latter being roughly equivalent to one year towards A Level Maths (I know, because I did the same O Level a couple of years after Monckton, though not at Harrow)), and four A Levels — English, Latin, Greek, and Ancient History. Not much science in that lot… He then went to Churchill College, Cambridge and read Classics, followed by a year in Cardiff doing a post-graduate Diploma in Journalism Studies. As his CV notes, he was handy with his pen: “Shorthand (100wpm, 100% accuracy)”. At the point at which he began working for a living, I think it’s perfectly fair to point out that Monckton had “no background in science” — unless you count founding the Harrow bookbinding guild as a contribution to science.

His subsequent career mixed journalism, Catholicism and conservative politics, until he finessed a position in Margaret Thatcher’s Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street. At the time, the policy unit was controversial — widely felt to be a way of minimising the influence of the civil service on policy making. Monckton has had two recent goes at describing what he got up to under Maggie’s wing — in his UKIP resumé, and at µWatts. Bob Ward, writing in the Guardian, deals with the µWatts piece and Thatcher’s appreciation of Monckton:

Indeed, given Monckton’s purportedly crucial role, it seems to be heartless ingratitude from the Iron Lady that she does not find room to mention him anywhere in the 914-page volume on her years as prime minister.

Nor does David “Two Brains” Willetts (minister for science & technology in the current UK government, who was in the policy unit at the same time as Monckton) find room to mention him in a prize-winning essay on his time working with Thatcher.

This is what Monckton’s CV has to say:

Special Adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister. Projects included tax/benefit modelling to address poverty; economic modelling to control government spending; sale of publicly-owned houses to their tenants (1,000,000 sold); mathematical development of indexed mortgages (to make them affordable to the poorest); privatisation of water authorities in England and Wales; psephological forecasting by computer; hydrodynamic analysis of warship hull-forms to expose a major Defense fraud; modelling of retrovirus transmission to plan for the HIV crisis; budget control (e.g. £20 billion overspend on housing budget prevented); speech-writing; and drafting answers to Parliamentary Questions.

Speech-writing and drafting answers? Just what you’d expect of a junior policy wonk with a journalism background. The other stuff? What you might expect if you play with the bundled spreadsheet app on an early portable computer. [Note: there is a degree of snark in the foregoing, but I wouldn't overstate it -- using spreadsheets in those sorts of applications would have been fairly novel at the time. The management accountants I worked with in Michael Heseltine's magazine company didn't get them until the late 80s. But calling it "economic modelling" or "psephological forecasting" is Monckton hyperbole at its finest.]

So what else does Monckton adduce in support of a “science background”? “Technical consultancy in the field of public administration” doesn’t count, nor does designing two puzzles and tweaking the original Sudoku puzzle to get Sudoku X, however abstruse the maths involved may have been. The next sentence is, however, his downfall. He claims his “heavily mathematical” paper on climate sensitivity was published in a “reviewed journal”. Interesting choice of words, Chris. The “paper” was published in a newsletter of the American Physical Society, not in any peer-reviewed journal, and was never subjected to the sort of review that would be routine for any scientific journal. Lucky, really, because Monckton makes so many errors his opus would never have made the grade in the mainstream literature.

The rational basis, therefore, for the assumption that Christopher Monckton, Viscount Brenchley, has no scientific background is that the evidence shows he hasn’t got one. The very best that can be said for him is that he has a facility for maths, a wonderful line in pompous prose and a bee in his bonnet.

[* Final item on CM/VB's CV: 2008-present: RESURREXI Pharmaceutical: Director responsible for invention and development of a broad-spectrum cure for infectious diseases. Patents have now been filed. Patients have been cured of various infectious diseases, including Graves’ Disease, multiple sclerosis, influenza, and herpes simplex VI. Our first HIV patient had his viral titre reduced by 38% in five days, with no side-effects. Tests continue. No cure for Monckhausen Syndrome? Shame...]

[PS: I am officially amused that if you Google "Monckton" in NZ, fifth item down is his adventure in Australia, Picnic at Hanging Sock...

My white ice cycle Gareth Renowden Jun 03

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Eli Rabett, that ever-curious but lovable lagomorph, has noticed the appearance of an apparent annual cycle in the Arctic sea ice area anomaly chart at the excellent Cryosphere Today. I mentioned the same thing in a post on Arctic sea ice back in April, and hinted that I might look at it “another day”. Well, that day has come, not least because the ice “experts” at µWatts have been suggesting it might be a satellite problem (it isn’t).

Here’s the relevant chart from Cryosphere Today. I downloaded it last night, and added the crude red circle round the interesting bit (click the image to see the current version of CT’s graph — it updates daily).


It covers the entire satellite record, and shows the anomaly — that is, the difference between the actual ice area for a given day and the average ice area for that day over the entire period. Looking at the anomaly should remove the annual cycle, because that’s accounted for in the average that forms the baseline. Nevertheless, from 2007 onwards it looks very much like the anomaly is itself showing an annual cycle.


Here’s a close up. The first big drop occurs in 2007, the year of the record summer minimum area, but it’s there again in 2008 and 2009 — and shows every sign of happening again this year. If you look closely, you’ll see something just as interesting as the cycle itself. The maximum anomaly occurs after the summer sea ice minimum. This is obvious on CT’s graph of area over last two years. The red line at the bottom is the anomaly, and you can see that the maximum anomaly occurs after the ice area has started to regrow — which means that the freeze-up has begun later than the 30-year average. However, once the ice starts refreezing, the anomaly decreases rapidly and gets up towards the zero line over winter. So what’s going on? Why is the late summer anomaly so much greater than the winter anomaly, and why have we only started seeing the cycle in the last few years? Here’s my stab at an explanation…

Consider the geography of the Arctic sea ice. You can divide it very roughly into two regions — the ice in the Arctic basin, that is the ocean around the pole, north of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Svalbard and Greenland, and the sea ice that forms outside the Arctic basin (Barents Sea, Bering Strait, Kamchatka, etc). Every winter the Arctic basin freezes up. That happens every year without fail (so far). The winter anomaly therefore depends on the amount of sea ice that grows outside the central Arctic. But all that ice melts long before we get anywhere near the late-summer ice minimum — in other words, it’s irrelevant to prospects for the summer.

Summer anomalies are determined by the ice melt in the central Arctic. Up to 2007, the summer melt mainly took place around the Canadian and Siberian shores, and in the Barents Sea. That’s why the Northwest and Northeast Passages were/are a tricky proposition — they depend on the fringes of the polar sea ice cap melting. In 2007, however, ice over a large chunk of the central Arctic basin melted away, setting a new record minimum by a 25% margin. That delayed the start of the freeze-up significantly, and so the anomaly increased to more than 2.5m km2 below average. But this is the central Arctic we’re talking about, and still a very chilly place, so even though the freeze-up was delayed, the sea ice regrew as autumn turned into winter and covered the entire basin.

The emergence of an annual cycle in the anomaly therefore occurs because there’s now more variability in summer area/extent than there is winter area/extent, and because there is, in absolute terms, more central Arctic ice to lose. 2007′s record melt triggered the appearance of the cycle. And as and when we hit new record minima, we’re likely to see even bigger swings in the cycle as long as the entire central Arctic freezes up every winter.

[This is not news to real ice scientists, by the way, because model runs show similar sea ice behaviour as the ice declines -- though it's being seen rather sooner than modelling suggested. This post at Primaklima at shows some examples. H/t to Georg himself in comments at µWatts]

There is another tantalising hint to be discerned in the new cycle. In each of the last three winters, the anomaly has approached zero — and sceptics have been keen to trumpet the ice as being back to normal. As we’ve seen, this is because of the growth of sea ice outside the Arctic basin, and so it is irrelevant to the state of the ice that will melt the following summer. The slightly reduced winter anomalies (compared to the four or five years prior to 2007, though not earlier) might be related to changes in weather patterns outside the central Arctic (which has been warmer than average throughout recent winters, while parts of Siberia have been colder), or perhaps to reductions in salinity caused by greater run-off of fresh water (making it easier to freeze) — but that’s highly speculative.


It’s interesting to note that the annual area anomaly cycle is to a certain extent mirrored in the PIOMAS ice volume data. Here’s the last few years snipped from their latest chart. There was a record volume anomaly in summer 2007, as you might expect, followed by a recovery over winter as the ice cover regrew. Another minimum occurred in summer 2008, followed by a smaller regrowth, and then another drop to a record minimum in summer 2009. Not much new ice since, though, and in the last couple of months the volume anomaly has plummeted. They’ve had to add another section to the bottom of the chart since I last posted it here…

Talk of betting on the summer minimum is underway at the mustelid’s place, and I am on record there as suggesting that this summer will see a greater melt than the last couple of years. A new record? Perhaps, but I’m not betting on it. Meanwhile, the SEARCH forecasting exercise has posted its first “pre-release” ice forecast: Adrienne Tivy, a post-doctoral fellow at the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) has developed a statistical model that projects a 4.539m km2 Sept average, “below normal” but way above the last three years. Still, when you look down on the top of the world (or bottom, from my perspective) from the vantage of NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, the eyeballs in the sky (there is life beyond the pooliverse!) make the sea ice look very broken up and mobile. Click on the little image at the top of the post (which shows open water at the western entrances to the NW Passage yesterday) to see the latest Arctic mosaic, and make up your own mind…

[Tomorrow -- another dreadful pun, sorry. ;-) ]

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