“… there must be a way …”


A young and thoughtful correspondent posted a question on his Facebook page, and some of his friends had a Tweet-like discussion. As I don’t do Facebook, I’ll respond to his question by e-mail and post that message below. I added remarks about the debate between his friends too. I re-named the friends: Decent and Sensible Canadian, Bleeding Heart, and Movement Conservative. On these conditions, my correspondent agreed that I could post this to you, to my correspondent, his friends, and to our readers.

Here’s the question:

I don’t understand all the complexities in our healthcare system. However, something compels me to think that there MUST be a way to creatively engineer a system that will provide excellent, low-stress, equitably priced, easy-to-access healthcare for all Americans while reducing waste, fraud, abuse, corruption, and unnecessary bureaucracy. I am open to public, private, and hybrid systems. Let the quest for the Holy Grail continue. However, on second thought, I’m probably being a naive moron to think such a thing.

Here’s the friends’ discussion: Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

When is 1.5% > 2%?

Yesterday Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in a hotly contested Senate election to fill out the rest of former senator Jeff Sessions. This was Alabama, of course, and I read that there were plenty of typically Alabama oddities about the many candidates in the primaries, the Republican primary run-off, the circumstances that led the scandal-tainted now former Alabama governor to appoint the state’s Attorney General to the seat until this special election, and many others.

Here are the election results reported by the New York Times:

Jones was close to 50%. Indeed, Moore was close to 50%, a frightening thought. But 20,000 more votes, 1.5%, for Jones than for Moore gave Jones the seat.

Here are the election results for the 2016 presidential election.

Notice that 306 > 232, but Clinton received nearly 66 million votes to Trump’s 63 million votes. American voters chose Hillary Clinton to be their president by a margin of 2.1%.

Thus, the title of this post: When is 1.5% > 2%?

The presidential election is the only election at all levels of government in which the candidate who wins the election may not win the office.

It’s not as if this is for some insignificant office, say, school crossing guard. Indeed, it is the only nationwide election.

We have a system that about every four of five elections, at random, gives the office to the candidate rejected by the voters.

The Founding Fathers created this odd system in 1789 to solve problems they thought would make the choice of a suitable candidate in a nationwide election difficult and might lead to poor candidates.

In their day, communication between the colonies and then former colonies was difficult, roads were poor where they existed, and land travel was on horseback or stage coach. There were few newspapers, which did not maintain reporters in other colonies. A paper might re-print news from other colonies when a paper or news report showed up by mail. Many citizens and potential voters were illiterate. How could voters, white men with a certain amount of wealth, of course, select a suitable national chief executive? Presumably, in elections for state legislatures or for a Congressional Representative the locals might well be acquainted with the gentlemen about town or important wealthy planters. The Founders, who were from those groups, expected that voters would have the good sense to choose appropriately among their social betters. How could a backwoods subsistence farmer have the knowledge to make a proper choice among the half a dozen men of sufficient wealth, education, piety, and stature to serve in the single elected national office?

Let the local voters chose among those people they knew because they were also locals. Have these superior choices meet in a central place to discuss among themselves and chose the best man to serve as president and chief executive (and a Vice President too). Let the number of these electors be mostly in proportion to population.

This is a reasonable solution to the perceived problem, but the mechanism began misfiring almost from the beginning. You can read about the troubles that arose after the first two elections of George Washington.

A key reason for the Electoral College was to insure the preservation of slavery. The details of this may be the subject of a future blog post. But it was one of the so-called compromises to encourage the less populous (counting only white people of course) slave states to join the new nation. Those Southern whites had been frightened during the Revolutionary War by the British offer of freedom to their slaves were the slaves to escape to British lines and fight with the British.

It is usually the case that the winner of the popular vote wins the presidency, but if that is our modern intention, why not let the popular vote decide?

What we have now is that every four or five presidential elections, at random, we award the office of the president to the loser of the election.


1 Comment

Filed under Politics

AlphaGo Zero Masters Chess in a Few Hours


Having mastered the game of Go over the course of months, Google’s AlphaZero machine-learning AI was supplied the rules of chess and no other information whatsoever about the game. It learned to be a superhuman chess master after 4 hours of playing games against another instance of itself. Later that same day it also mastered Shogi, the Japanese version of chess, which is more difficult than Western chess. More here.



Leave a comment

Filed under artificial intelligence, Software

Global Warming XVI: The Breadth of Evidence


Greg Tomlinson and I have been discussing global warming in a series of comments and replies to a blog post of mine from April 2017. Readers can review this discussion here1, here2, here3, here4, and here5. This back and forth primarily deals with the evidence that Earth’s average surface temperature has been increasing for many decades as the result of humans burning fossil fuels. As our discussion focuses, for the most part, on the details of the global average surface temperature record derived from thermometer measurement records, readers might get the impression that this is the single key data record that shows the Earth’s warming and that it is a close question as to whether the globe is warming or not. In fact, the results of analyzing temperature records are fully consistent with many other lines of evidence that the globe is warming. These other lines of evidence do not involve the detailed analysis of world-wide temperature records. I’ll describe a few of these, but there are, literally, dozens of such striking demonstrations that the globe is warming.

These examples are point measurements that suggest but do not tell us about global climate. Therefore, the professional researchers go through the immense trouble to produce a global average surface temperature. Even that is not the only global climate measure they produce. Indeed, the temperature record at each weather station is a point measurement.

Here’s a proxy temperature record from Japan that goes back to 800 AD. The graph is from an article in the Economist, but the data points are from a publication by a Japanese researcher. He and his colleagues investigated records of cherry blossom viewing going back 1200 years, nearly to the beginning of Japanese civilization. The vertical axis shows dates in April, except for a few early in May or late in March. The Economist writers have graphed the Japanese researchers’ data and averaged it. The date at which the blossoms reach their peak is a proxy for the temperature: earlier warm temperatures produce earlier peak blossoms. Dots lower on the chart are earlier in the season and reflect warmer springs. Of course, over the centuries there are wide variations. To my eyes, the peak blossom dates have moved earlier by about two weeks since the early or mid-1800s. What do your eyes see? Climate fluctuations known to scholars as the medieval warm period, around 1000 to 1200 AD or the little ice age around 1400 are European climate phenomena, not world-wide ones. The movement of the most recent 100 years or so is larger than any of the earlier fluctuations, in 12 centuries, and shows no sign of moderating.


Cherry blossoms tell us about the arrival of spring warmth. It’s getting warmer earlier. What about the arrival of fall’s chills? They are arriving later.

Gingko trees lose most of their leaves shortly after, indeed often during the night of, the first autumn freeze. People have been recording the date on which a gingko tree at the University of New Hampshire drops its leaves since the 1970s. Evidently the biology student amuse themselves with a betting pool. The school in Durham is close to New Hampshire’s short Atlantic Ocean coast. Here’s the data. Julian day, the vertical axis, is the day of the year beginning with January 1 as Julian Day 1. This year’s leaf fall was the second latest in this record. It looks to my eyes as if the trend line is now about 10 days later than it was in the late 1970s.

The Great Ginkgo Leaf Dump



This interesting chart is from a New York Times article: How Much Warmer Was Your City?

You enter your city in the window. They have data from many cities around the world. I’ve just put in the Tampa data because I live and teach here.

The horizontal axis shows the days of the year, grouped by month. The vertical axis shows temperatures for each day in Fahrenheit degrees. For each day, the black vertical bar shows the high and low temperature for that day. The dark gray shows the normal temperatures for that day, and the lighter gray shows the record high and the record low for that day. By the way, you can see that last December was unusually warm in Tampa. You can see the general sweep of the seasons from temperate to steamy hot to temperate.

If the climate in Tampa were stable, you’d expect to see a few record highs and a few record lows throughout the year. The records could, just randomly, come at any time. So, an unusually hot winter day or an unusually cold summer day. Perhaps, you’d see 4 record lows and 6 record highs one year, then 5 record lows and 5 record highs the next, and so on. But in 2016 Tampa had 15 record highs and 0 record lows! The small vertical arrows mark the records. This suggests that the climate has warmed relative to the long term historical climate.

I encourage you to visit this site and enter your own city.



Alaskan rivers freeze during the long cold winters, and the ice breaks apart in the spring as weather warms. People have been recording, and betting upon, the breakup date for more than a hundred years. Here’s the data for two rivers in Alaska: Ice Breakup on Two Alaskan Rivers.

This is from the still worthwhile EPA site: Climate Change Indicators, which has many similar records from distinctive sources, all of which are broadly consistent with a warming climate.

Notice that in the graph, upward is earlier in the year, which is also presumed to mean warmer earlier. To my eyes, it looks as if the breakup is about 0 days later than it was a hundred years ago.

The figure figure shows the date each year when ice breaks up at two locations: the town of Nenana on the Tanana River and Dawson City on the Yukon River.

Data sources: Nenana Ice Classic, 20164; Yukon River Breakup, 20165
Web update: August 2016


Here is data about arctic sea ice coverage from the excellent National Snow and Ice Data Center: Arctic and Antarctic Sea Ice News.

This data arises from systematic recording from satellites in polar orbits that have been collecting data since the 1970s. You can see the line for the 1981-2010 median. The two shades of gray show plus and minus 25% and plus and minus 45%. The year 2012 was the record low, but you can see that recent years have all been outside the usual range. Indeed, in recent years cargo ships, with strengthened hulls but no accompanying ice breakers, have traversed the famous Northwest Passage over the top of Canada, and over the tip of Russian and Siberia. These are much shorter routes Asia to Europe and the eastern US.

There is much more useful material at this site, about Antarctic sea ice, for example.

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of November 2, 2017 along with daily ice extent data for five previous years. 2017 is shown in blue, 2016 in green, 2015 in orange, 2014 in brown, 2013 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Leave a comment

Filed under Climate Change

Go-ing: Gone


In March 2016 Google’s AlphaGo program defeated one of the top Go players in the world, a breakthrough for so-called artificial intelligence. AlphaGo learned the game starting from records of thousands of Go games played by masters around the world – mostly in Japan, Korea and China – for the past few hundred years.

The latest version of AlphaGo, named AlphaGo Zero, started learning last year with only the rules of Go and no input whatsoever from humanity’s history of the game. Zero learned by playing millions of Go games against another instance of itself, remembering what worked well and what did not. Then it played one hundred games against last year’s AlphaGo. Score: Zero 100 wins, AlphaGo none.

From an article in the MIT Technology Review: “The most striking thing is we don’t need any human data anymore … By not using human data or human expertise, we’ve actually removed the constraints of human knowledge…” [italics added].

Game over, for humans.


Leave a comment

Filed under artificial intelligence, Software, Uncategorized

Carbon Dioxide Control Knob Discussion V


Greg Tomlinson and I have been discussing in comments a blog post from last April:

Global warming XIII – The Carbon Dioxide Control Knob . I think that his comments and my replies will be informative to our readers, who aren’t likely to notice items from six months ago. Therefore, I’m going to create new blog posts each of which contains a comment and a reply with titles The Carbon Dioxide Control Knob I, II, III, and so on.

Here’s the fifth:

October 7, 2017 at 3:19 am Edit

I’m afraid there is strong evidence that most of your statements in this comment are based on “corrected” (ie. falsified) temperature data. Several indisputable facts point in that direction. As you probably remember, NOAA presented a paper by Thomas R. Karl et. al. in 2015 which basically rewrote the entire temperature record from 1880 onward, allegedly to help eliminate data “biases”. On several occasions, NASA did similar doctoring of their data. How can they possibly know if their adjusted data in any more accurate that the original readings taken over 100 years ago? Nowadays, however, you can’t go to the NOAA or NASA websites and pull up data for the year 1995 and expect to get actual measurements taken in 1995. Instead, you will get “corrected” data that was probably calculated sometime after 2010. If you want 1995 data taken in 1995, you will need to go the NASA archives, assuming they still exist. Since most climate researchers are not aware of this, they use the currently posted NASA and NOAA data without question. If you ask them “Where is the data that convinced the IPCC we are in a warming hiatus?”, they will probably respond with “WHAT warming hiatus?” since the new “corrected” data eliminates all level and downward temperature trends. Unfortunately, our government agencies have become extremely deceitful in this manner. Is this any way to do science?

Suppose one of your graduate students gathered data for his/her thesis, and then “corrected” that data to fit the original hypothesis. Would you or your university accept that thesis? If not, then please don’t expect me, the Trump administration, nor the American people in general to buy these NASA/NOAA arguments when they would most likely be used to justify economy destroying carbon taxes and regulations.

Greg Tomilinson

Mr. Tomlinson,

You are thoroughly informed about global warming denier debating points. Unfortunately, these arguments or assertions are misleading or mistaken. Your argument also falsely impugns the integrity not just of the climate scientists involved, but of the scientific enterprise.

NOAA, NASA, and the British Hadley group do not “doctor” their data. They all adjust and correct it however. You can read a description of what they do here:

No climate conspiracy: NOAA temperature adjustments bring data closer to pristine

This is written by a climate scientist involved in the research and published in the Guardian.

Thorough, not thoroughly fabricated: The truth about global temperature data: How thermometer and satellite data is adjusted and why it must be done.

This is written by a scientist who is also a science journalist.


Explainer: How data adjustments affect global temperature records.

This one is written by one of the climate scientists involved in the global temperature research.

You are correct that the scientists go back to the original raw data records and recalculate corrections as more data become available. The corrected data sets are labeled, for example, HADCRUT1, HADCRUT2, and so on.

You are mistaken that climate scientists are unaware of this, and you are mistaken that the original raw data sets are not available. Here you can find the raw data that researchers used to produce HADCRUT4. The raw data for the NASA and NOAA datasets are also available and easy to find.

The new corrected data does not “eliminate all level and downward temperature trends.” Indeed, comparing a century’s data, the corrected data reduces the warming between the first half of the 20th century and the second half. Here’s the data for you to see for yourself.

“The figure below shows the global surface temperature record created from only raw temperature readings with no adjustments applied (blue line). The red line is the adjusted land and ocean temperature record produced using adjusted data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with the difference between the two in grey.” This is from the third link above.

Neither our government agencies nor the world’s academic climate researchers have been deceitful. Their methods and data have been and are open for all to review in the best traditions of the scientific enterprise.

Leave a comment

Filed under Climate Change

The Carbon Dioxide Control Knob Discussion IV


Greg Tomlinson and I have been discussing in comments a blog post from last April:

Global warming XIII – The Carbon Dioxide Control Knob . I think that his comments and my replies will be informative to our readers, who aren’t likely to notice items from six months ago. Therefore, I’m going to create new blog posts each of which contains a comment and a reply with titles The Carbon Dioxide Control Knob I, II, III, and so on.

Here’s the fourth:

October 1, 2017 at 3:43 am Edit

What you pointed out about aerosols increasing from human industry and volcanic eruptions demonstrates my point. There are factors other than CO2 that affect earth temperatures just as much or more. These aerosols caused a net cooling trend for about 30 years despite increased CO2 levels during those times. It is probably the sun, however, that is the most important driver of temperatures. The “warming hiatus” noted by the IPCC in 2005 was well correlated with a drop in solar activity that started within the first few years of the 21st century.

Greg Tomlinson

October 3, 2017 at 7:25 pm Edit

Mr. Tomlinson,
No one asserts that CO2 is the only, or even the most important, factor that contributes to the Earth’s climate or temperature. Indeed, you are correct that the Sun is the most important factor. Climate scientists investigate both the sizes and changes in the various factors when they assess changes in the climate. It happens to be the case, that humans have grabbed the CO2 control knob and are turning it strongly to the right, increasing CO2 levels to ones not seen for millions of years.
There has been no hiatus in global warming. Variations in the Earth’s global average surface temperature are larger than the annual change in the underlying temperature trend caused by warming. In addition to aerosols, produced by volcanoes and humans burning fossil fuels, there are also fluctuations in ocean currents and temperatures known popularly as El Nino that contribute to short term global temperature fluctuations. It happens that 1998, a strong El Nino year, produced a record high average global surface temperature. For several years after this as the El Nino weakened, temperatures did not exceed 1998. Each of the last three years, 2014, 2015, and 2016 have exceeded 1998, each setting a new record. This year looks as if it will again set a record.
While global warming deniers declared that the Earth was now cooling, global warming continued unabated. Indeed, most of the increasing heat energy goes into the world’s oceans.

Here’s a temperature chart that shows, on the right, a short horizontal line that exhibits the supposed hiatus to which you refer. Indeed, you can see that by picking each local maximum global average surface temperature going back 50 years, that we have an uninterrupted string of hiatuses. Hmmm.



Filed under Climate Change