Thursday June 16th 2011

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Climate and network connections

by Rasmus & Jim

Who would think that Internet, ideas, disease, money, birds, and climate literacy have anything in common? Recent progress on complex systems and network theory suggests that they all can be described in terms of a ‘Levy flight‘. A recent and lengthy paper with the title ‘A study on interconnections between climate related ideas in complex networks’ (Ann. Trans. ICCPRS Soc. 52(3):1647-71; subscription required) by John McVenus argues that new ideas can be traced over the Internet just like dollar bills are traced at Wheresgeorge. Our take on this is that this study muddles things more than clarifying the facts – probably because McVenus tries to explain almost everything.

Random walks (RW) may have a much wider applicability than just describing climatic processes (see ‘Naturally trendy?‘). Recent progress on complex systems and nonlinear network information theory suggests that many information transfer and evolution processes exhibit characteristics that are effectively modeled by RW or its variants. These concepts can help us to understand the transmission and evolution of ideas in science, particularly when an extensive communication network (i.e. the internet) is a dominant communication medium, as it very much is today, and probably will be for some time.

There is, in particular, one type of random walk known as a “Levy flight“, which is simply a walk in which a highly skewed distribution of step distances leads to a small percentage of steps that are much larger than average (“jumps” or “flights”), altering the system state rather abruptly. Such behaviour can be studied with methods such as the agent-based approach for describing the spread of disease and meta-population models, but are used in McVenus to describe how information travels. Similar “agent-based” approaches are also used for example, in ecology for the modeling of metapopulation dynamics and the spread of diseases and wildfires.

After briefly laying out some conceptual and mathematical bases for Levy flight behavior and analysis, McVenus gets quickly to details. He begins a long litany of interesting examples with the recently proposed idea that orbital patterns in Jupiter and Saturn can in fact affect the solar center of mass, which in turn influences the level of solar activity, and hence the climate.

The McVenus paper also cites a small group in Norway which argues that changes in the moon’s orbit affects the climate through changes in ocean circulation, sea-ice cover, and hence the climate. This group coordinates a project called ‘Luna-Ticks’, and is interested in the idea of Jupiter and Saturn. But nobody has ever seen a Jupiter-tide or Saturn-tide here on Earth, and hence, they fear that critics convincingly will argue that the effect of the planets is pretty weak. But they really do like the idea, and instead proposed that the general principle could be translated to the moon and its measurable effect here on Earth. Everything but greenhouse gases, they argue, affects our climate.

Some bloggers have dubbed the process through which such arguments spread as ‘dispersion of confusion‘, which does not follow a simple diffusion law, but exhibits strange characteristics in addition to distant leaps in space. In addition to spreading, the ideas also change over time, morphing into new concepts, according to the McVenus paper.

While much more investigation into this topic is needed to get any sort of reasonable estimate of when and exactly how such conditions might be important, from an information flow analysis perspective, it is a fairly easy trace from there to the recent proclamation that astronomical alignments (astrology) can cause the climate to change, however strangely misguided such a pronouncement may be. Fair and straightforward enough; a good choice of examples with which to illustrate McVenus’ overall approach. But from here things start to get more complex–and highly interesting–pretty quickly.

McVenus further proposes that there is also a wealth of information to derive from all the “gates” and network analysis, because their number is rather limited and their identification is easy. Usually, a “gate” is a label telling the media to start a hype, being proposed by someone with limited imagination. But there are exceptions to this rule, such as “Colgate”. This notion also exists in plural form, such as “Billgates”.

The recent “Cowgate” appears to be a highly noteworthy Levy flight example. However, the gender of this gate turned out to be wrong – it later turned out really to be a “Bullgate”. It was traced by McVenus back to its press source via a principal system node in the propagation and evolution (usually via catastrophic mutation) of multiple climate science ideas at a web site called ‘the Gate Depot’.

It could have been no small task for McVenus to accurately trace these ideas as they went through the conceptual sausage grinder, rarely resembling anything remotely like their original form, much less some aspect of external reality as we know it. But perhaps this is just the typical warmist nitpicking about evidence, discernment, truth, reality and larger scale meaning.

This node represents what McVenus calls (using the slanderous invective of scientists, which has generated 99% of the bad blood in public discussions) “a mad man with an affinity for black listing”. The language here is unfortunate, even if the idea sleuthing is still first rate. And speaking of bloodsucking and bad blood, we apparently now have a ´Draculagate‘, fresh from the Gate Depot. But here we note that McVenus may have misinterpreted things slightly. Is that really the blood bank Dracula is in charge of, or is he rather just caught up fang-deep in ketchup? Where’s the photographic, or even metaphoric, evidence? What’s up with that? Caution is urged; the analysis is good but not without errors.

It is in illuminating such otherwise opaque connections that we simply would not otherwise make, that McVenus is at his best. For example, he tracks down how the longer term surface temperature increases are based exclusively on the completely untrustworthy HadCRUT data, which are contaminated by siting issues and more generally by the impossibility of calculating a global mean temperature. These issues also affect the regional to local scales that really affect the man in the street, where urban heat island effects are exceedingly extreme, notwithstanding all the snow this winter.

But the temperatures are still not a problem to humans in the summer because of manifest human adaptability exemplified by air conditioned buildings and vehicles, even in the third world where they are just not as obvious because of there being fewer of them. And even if we jump back to the first world, the European heat wave of 2003 that killed a lot of people in urban areas cannot be due to AGW because for the umpteenhundredth time weather is not climate, and thus the hyperbolic and incendiary alarmist exaggerations based entirely on the now utterly discredited computer modeling of Pachauri’s IPCC in Himalayanglaciermeltrategate need to stop forthwith. One does not often run across comprehensive arguments of this magnitude in one place. McVenus shines like the morning star.

But an even stranger change is seen in the disperion of confusion process in terms of a combination of the the Jupiter-Saturn hypothesis with the intelligent design (ID) concept. This aspect is not really fully acknowledged in the McVenus paper. To give some quick and concise background on this vast subject, it is important to note that Richard Bawkin, the author of “The Evil Particle” is critical to ID, and has argued that due to symmetry, everything has opposites in the universe. The particles have anti-particles, there are opposite spins in quantum physics (e.g. top spin and bottom spin), and so on. If there is intelligent design, there has to be stupid design too if symmetry holds. A quote from Oscar Wilde puts it nicely into perspective: “Where the devil is the Devil in intelligent design?”.

In logical terms, idiotic designs just proves natural selection, because over time, idiotic design doesn’t survive. A new research project proposed by John Spence had an objective to try to prove the existence of the anti-intelligent design. Colleagues have informally and jokingly threatened to nominate him for the igNobel prize. Anyway the project proposal had changed when it was submitted to the Norwegian Research Foundation: Instead of looking into evil issues, the project proposed to look for stupid designs. In particular it aims to look into stock markets, Icelandic banks, Greek economy, and accelerator pedals in hybrid cars.

However, the McVenus paper turns into a more tangled mess when it at great length discusses the propagation of ideas based on the church of ‘The Flying Spaghetti monster‘ (FSM) and almost neglects ID. The paper should have noted that FSM is an anti-thesis to the ID. Nevertheless, FSM has a say on global warming and hence influences the dispersion of confusion. According to FSM, global warming is inversely related to the number of pirates in the world. In November 2003, ‘Pirate Bay‘ was founded in Sweden, correctly acknowledged in McVenus, and the Swedes managed to elect representatives from their Pirate Party into the European parliament. Since then, some FSM-climate-protagonists have argued that the recent levelling off in the global mean temperature (from CRU!) can be explained. We think that this idea is unconvincing, even though the global mean temperature from CRU hasn’t really increased much since 2003.

An interesting and somewhat related point is that John Spence also has claimed that there must be anti-blogs too, and that there exists an unrealClimate-site. It’s not so straight forward to find it, as it uses a different name, however. Bart Verheggen from wuttsupwiththat, has pointed out the site UnrealClimate’s real name may be “blogal cooling”, but others suggest that the name of the anti-site is just made up with ‘real’ and ‘climate’ in reverse order (although they would have to swap ‘.org’ with ‘ists.com’).

There are also experts and un-experts, and organizations such as the Hartland institution provides a list of known experts in the world – and they say that an ‘expert’ is a person who does not think that an increase CO2 can lead to climate change. Many of these men and women provide part of the nodes in the agent-based approach models.

Finally, one remarkable conclusion about the spread of confusion in the McVenus paper, published by the Silly Paper Publishing Inc (SPPI), is that it’s distribution has a strong resemblance to the migration of cuckoos. In addition, cuckoos do lay eggs, and hence form new generations with new characteristics, thus changing over time, just like the ideas. Hence, he concludes, it is very likely that the confusion is spread by birds.

This article was originally posted on Real Climate