Monday, November 30, 2009

Climategate gets worse

You should all know about the scandal that has been dubbed 'climategate' by now. Basically, a large amount of email and other data relating to the work of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia has been leaked, and it does not present a pretty picture. We have conspiracy to evade Freedom of Information Requests by deleting data, schemes to freeze out academics who disagree with the CRU's position on global warming, and emails that suggest holes in the base data that supports Climate Change. However, the worst of it is that the computer models on which so much current political policy worldwide is based appears to be seriously flawed. Programmer notes suggest poor error handling, poor input data, and a number of hardcoded values in an effort to get the programme to match observed climate behaviour in the past. This raises doubts about the model's actual ability to predict the future. Complex computer models can quickly descend into complex garbage without good inputs and well-formed processing. Neither appears to be present here.

It appears that there has been very little effort on the part of the CRU to build decent software using proven programming and software engineering techniques. Instead we seem to have a very bright, but unqualified and inexperienced programmer churning his way through masses of computer code at a level of professionalism that can only be described as hobbyist. Knocked together programs are all right as one-off support for a Phd thesis or as part of an experimental cycle, but definitive climate modelling demands something better.

All of this leaves us with plausible hypotheses on global warming and climate change based on evidence that appears increasingly flimsy. Most seriously the CRU says that it has thrown away much of the base data on which their models are based, making some of their work unrepeatable and therefore unverifiable by anyone else.

Right now there is a broad consensus on climate change among the three main parties, based on what was supposedly solid scientific theories. If these are no longer solid, and if the public belief in global warming continues to slide, then this consensus will fracture.

Maybe it should.

BNP Want to hand over Gibraltar

Extraordinary story in the Sun. Apparently, the BNP want to hand back Gibraltar to Spain. So, this so-called 'patriotic' party would force 30,000 British citizens to become Spanish despite their repeated votes to remain British.

The problem with the BNP is not that they are basket-cases, but that they represent a thoroughly reprehensible political ideology that places ordinary people dead last when considering policy. For Griffin and his ilk it is all about personal power and the power of the State. The little man can just shut up and soldier, literally given the history of countries where nationalists have gained power.

Basildon Hospital

I was in China when the Basildon Hospital story broke, but the details seem clear. The hospital seems to have got much of the medical science and advanced therapies right, while at the same time falling down on basic management and nursing standards that would have been recognisable to Florence Nightingale. I think that I join with our community in feeling a basic sense of betrayal by the hospital management that they have managed to associate the name of Basildon with such a scandal, never mind the lives that have been cut short by their apparent incompetence.

China Trip Review

Back from China, no blogging in the interim because, well, you can't. Certain URLs appear to be inaccessible from the People's Republic, including Reading blogs is also a bit of a challenge, but can be got around.

To the trip itself, well it was pretty hard work with tours of factories, universities, research centres and vocational colleges. We also had some time at tourist sites, but that was as tourist sites rather than as excursions if you get the difference. The Chinese looked after us very well and you could not fault the organisation from the government of Changzhou. They made sure that we had a guide always on hand and that the programme really covered what we needed to do. Of course this was only a first step, with a formal signing of a Letter of Intent between Changzhou and Basildon that will hopefully develop into a fuller Memorandum of Understanding.

However, the key question is, of course, what's the point? What was worth about £8000 of taxpayers money to take a four-person group from Basildon Council for a week? Well, it is like this: Basildon already invests quite a lot of time and energy in economic development. We have about 20% of the Essex GDP, a much larger share than our population suggests because of our very extensive industrial and commercial areas. This is done to promote business, which in turn means jobs and prosperity for our local community. Much business today is, of course, international, but a District Council does not have the capacity to run relationships all over the world, so we need to focus. China is the most populous nation on the planet and is undergoing rapid growth. Business opportunities abound, and that means prosperity and jobs for both Britain and China, because international trade when done right benefits everybody. Councils' have a role to play in this particularly in China because of the importance of local government in the Chinese business environment. A business relationship that includes the Council and our opposite numbers in Changzhou is likely to have a much smoother ride than otherwise. This is not just my opinion by the way, but was strongly articulated by the British businessmen that we met. If we have good relationships in China then that makes it more likely that British business that trades with China will come to Basildon District, which means more jobs for our local people. Even though we were only out there for a week, we identified two opportunities that may lead to new assembly plants in Basildon that are tied to Chinese engineering. Details are confidential, but if either of those comes off it will pay for a relationship with Changzhou for a decade, never mind one trip, and that is without the other benefits of cultural, sporting and educational contacts.

So, this was definitely worth doing, and is certainly worth building on for the future.