Friday, December 01, 2006

An Inconvient Model

Today Jason Briggeman of Productivity Shock ends Hurricane Week--a week-long recognition that no hurricanes made landfall this hurricane season. I applaud Jason's efforts to remind everyone the failings of climatology.

Like the global economy, the world's climate is a high-dimension, non-linear system (which is a fancy way of saying "there's lots of important factors and they are all connected"). These complex systems are nortoriously hard to model because all the variables interact with each other, often in unpredictable ways. Economists learned this the hard way, having spent decades attempting to map the global economy but with only very limited success. But this was not mere academic time wasted: the flawed economics led to flawed policy. Economies went haywire as simple plans were grafted to a non-simple system. Recessions and hyperinflation followed.

Today climatologists are doing the same thing. While they might have more success (software is better and the climate forces are usually more predictable than people), the science is not yet at the point where policy is a safe idea. It pains me that the climatology discipline seems to want to repeat our mistakes. Not only might this roll of the dice not result in a lowering of global temperature, with the world economy more connected than ever before the unintended consequences could be far worse than any economic policy.


Anonymous said...

What the hell are you talking about? "no hurricanes made landfall this hurricane season"

Ernesto made landfall on Aug 27
John made landfall on Sept 1
Lane made landfall on Sept 16
Gordon made landfall on Sept 21
Paul made landfall on Sept 26

FIVE hurricanes made landfall. And just because a hurricane didn't make landfall, doesn't mean it didn't exist. There were 7 major hurricanes this season with an average of about 6. I guess climatology isn't as bad of a model as you thought?

I'd also like to point out that the Pacific hurricane season was worse than average.

Then you have typhoons, monsoons, tropical cyclones, tropical storms, and so on. The Philippines have been hit with 4 typhoons in 4 months killing thousands.

Remember, hurricanes are an artificial label. There's about as much difference between a hurricane and tropical storm as there is between creek and stream. Maybe you should start taking a closer look at the facts before blogging about them.

David said...

Ok first step: Take a breath.

Now, to clarify because I apparently left out a key phrase (which Jason did remember, by the way): "in the US." The one exception to this looks like Hurricane Ernesto, a mere category one hurricane.

But most importantly, re-read the post. The idea is not that the oceans are peaceful. They clearly aren't and they clearly never were. The idea is to recognize that the global climate is a complex system. The Pacific season might have been worse than average (and by the way, one hurricane above average is not statisically significant) but the Atlantic (as far as I can tell) wasn't. We live in a complex world and the reason I wrote this post was not as a weather report but a reminder of that basic reality.

I've told people that they are missing the forest for the trees. Rare is the person that's so up on details they're analyzing only the bark.

Anonymous said...


A category one hurricane is still a hurricane. It's not an exception. To say "none made landfall [in the US]" when there was one, is to tell a falsehood.

The hurricane season in both oceans was worse than average. Slightly worse, but still worse. And please explain how a 16.7% increase in something is "insignificant".

The points of your post seems to be "we can't predict anything a complicated system does, so why try" and "the climatologists did a better job then the economics, therefore they did something wrong and we should dismiss what they say". Neither of which are very accurate or honest and smacks of jealousy. Maybe you should try learning from their successes instead of saying they should learn from your mistakes?


Jason Br. said...

Believe it or not, if you actually go to the Wikipedia URL provided by our anonymous screamer, here's what you find:

"The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season was an event in the annual cycle of tropical cyclone formation. This season was unusual in that no hurricanes made landfall in the United States of America."

I tell you: You can't make this stuff up.

Tim said...

Yup - tropical storms, tropical depressions, etc.

But no hurricanes by Wikipedia in the US.

Anonymous said...

Did either of you actually read the whole thing or just the first paragraph? If you were to scroll down to where "Hurricane Ernesto" is listed, you clearly see a map of it making landfall. "Ernesto made landfall near Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, early in the morning on August 28." I also noticed that neither of you explained why "in the US" matters so much or why neither of you mentioned the hurricanes that made landfall in other parts of the world. To only dwell on the US is misleading.

So BR you've proved that you CAN make this stuff up.