Scribble, scribble, scribble

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Friday 2009-12-25


A very happy feast of (according to preference) Isaac of Woolsthorpe, or Jesus of Nazareth, to anyone reading this!

Also born on the same day of the year: Anwar Sadat, Humphrey Bogart, and (appropriately) Shane MacGowan of The Pogues (co-writer of the best-selling and very miserable “Fairytale of New York”).

Edited to add: oops, I screwed up and this didn't actually appear until 48 hours later than it was meant to. Er, happy new year then.

Friday 2009-12-11


George Herbert's beautiful poemLove bade me welcome” has been a favourite of mine for so long that I was very embarrassed to find in a book about something quite different the following observation, which in retrospect is absolutely obvious: it must have originated in a pun on the word “host”, even though that word never appears in the poem.

There's something rather delightful about that. The following joke, which I stole from Math Overflow, has the same feature. My apologies to any readers who happen not to be in the intersection of the two cultures on which it depends. (I worry that part of its appeal lies exactly there; in-group humour.) “Q. What do you call it when you're trying to prove that a map is injective, but you just can't do it? A. Monic fail.”

Any mathematician reading this who happens to have a copy of Littlewood's Miscellany might want to look up Thorin's proof of a theorem of Riesz, in the section entitled “Mathematics with minimum raw material”, where once again the crucial piece of the puzzle is something that isn't there.

(Random geeky note about the Herbert poem: It's frequently titled “Love (III)”, but G.H. never gave it that title. He just called it “Love”, but he also wrote another earlier pair of poems titled “Love” and numbered I,II. So his editor decided to call this later one “Love (III)”. Aren't you glad you know that?)

(Random geeky note about names of things other than poems: So far as I can tell, the fact that in northern Cambridge there are a George Street and a Herbert Street near to one another, and also a Gilbert Road and a Chesterton Road near to one another, is mere coincidence.)

Saturday 2009-12-05


Consider, if you will, an argument for theism than which no worse can be conceived.

What would such an argument be like? Well, arguments that merely fail to provide any support whatever for their conclusions are two a penny; a worst conceivable argument for any proposition must surely be one that actually conclusively refutes the proposition it's meant to support.

Now, the worst conceivable argument for theism clearly exists in the understanding. But it cannot exist only there, for so bad an argument is of course worse (because more destructive) if it is actually made; so if it existed only in the understanding then a worse would be conceivable, which is a contradiction.

Therefore, there is an argument for theism which is in reality a conclusive refutation of theism.

But a belief that can be conclusively refuted is false. Therefore there is no God.

Note: Yes, of course the above is entirely ridiculous, and in particular I am of course not suggesting that it actually offers the slightest reason for rejecting theism.

Tuesday 2009-12-01


In the wake of the CRU hack, all sorts of allegations are flying around, some more sensible than others. Unsurprisingly, some of what's being said is not merely misinterpretation but outright fabrication. (Oh, the irony.)

Here is an example, excerpted from an email alleged to have been sent from Tom Wigley to Phil Jones on 2009-09-27.


Here are some speculations on correcting SSTs to partly explain the 1940s warming blip. If you look at the attached plot you will see that theland also shows the 1940s blip (as I’m sure you know).


It would be good to remove at least part of the 1940s blip, but we are still left with “why the blip”.

Why is it important? Because over the course of the 20th century the 40's blip leading into the cooling 50's 60's and 70's is a screaming refutation of co2 as a climate driver.

Now, the thing is that that last bit (the only bit that seems to me even slightly incriminating) isn't in the original email. As you can see, e.g.,

  • in comment 20 on this RealClimate post (note: I think the discrepancy in date is because the commenter is quoting from a reply to the email in question; see also here), or
  • in that email's entry in what seems to be a complete database of the stolen emails.

The real email contains nothing about a "screaming refutation", nor in fact any sort of suggestion that the “blip” is anything other than the sort of measurement anomaly that scientists have to deal with all the time.

Paranoid readers may wish to note that all the sources cited above are hostile witnesses (RealClimate isn't, but the commenter I quoted clearly is), so it is not at all credible that they are covering anything up for the CRU people.

(There is some information about the “1940s blip” on RealClimate.)

Note 1: The fact that this particular allegation is a lie doesn't prove that any other allegation made on the basis of the CRU emails is a lie.

Note 2: Many other allegations made on the basis of the CRU emails do in fact appear to me to be lies.