I was going to ignore this, but since this is a blog and I’ve nothing better to write about, I thought I would comment on Doug Keenan’s $100000 challenge. If you want some insights into Doug Keenan, Richard Telford’s blog is a reasonable place to start. I’ve also written about some of his antics.
So, what is his big challenge? Well, it appears to be to identify (with 90% accuracy) which of his 1000 time series were simply random, and which have had a trend added to them. Doing so would, according to Doug
demonstrate, via statistical analysis, that the increase in global temperatures is probably not due to random natural variation.
Really? No, this is just silly. Doing so would simply demonstrate that one can identify which of a set of randomly generated time series have had a trend added to them. It will tell you absolutely nothing as to whether the increase in global temperature is due to random natural variation or not. If you want to establish this you would need to base your analysis on what could cause changes to the global temperatures, and try to establish the most likely explanation for the observations. You cannot do it using statistical analysis alone. This should be obvious to anyone with a modicum of understanding of the basics of data analysis.
We are also pretty certain that it’s not simply a random walk. You can read Tamino’s post if you want an explanation as to why it isn’t a random walk. We understand the energy flows pretty well, and the idea that global temperatures could randomly drift up, or down, is simply bizarre and represents a remarkable level of ignorance.
In principle, I should just ignore this as being silly, but it is actually particularly frustrating. It is very obviously complete nonsense. Anyone who promotes this, or sees it as somehow interesting, or worthwhile, is either somewhat clueless, or particularly dishonest. There isn’t really a third option. This is the kind of thing about which there should be little disagreement. Not dismissing this challenge as silly is why I object to the idea that there aren’t really people who deserve to be labelled as climate science deniers, since it is the epitomy of climate science denial. It’s why I think we need a better class of climate “sceptic”.
There are, however, some conclusions one might be able to draw from this whole episode
- Doug Keenan has promoted this basic idea on numerous occasions and, on numerous occasions, people have explained why it is nonsense. Maybe Doug Keenan is simply particularly dense.
- Possibly Doug Keenan thinks that all mainstream climate scientists are particularly dense and that they’ve been doing something fundamentally wrong for decades. However, given that they haven’t actually been doing what he seems to think they’ve been doing, this means that – at best – he’s simply savaging a strawman, and returns us to the point above.
- Doug Keenan knows exactly what he’s doing, but thinks that all the climate science deniers to whom he’s trying to appeal are simply particularly dense. I might be insulted if I were them, since it’s pretty obviously nonsense. Of course, those who think this is a good idea would probably deny being climate science deniers, putting them into some kind of infinite loop of denial.
- Some combination of the above.
Whatever conclusion one might draw, it does seem to put Doug Keenan’s comment into a different light. When he said
the best time-series analysts tend to be in finance. Time-series analysts in finance generally get paid 5–25 times as much as those in academia; so analysts in finance do naturally tend to be more skillful than those in academia—though there are exceptions.
I assumed he meant that there were exceptions in academia. I hadn’t appreciated that he might have been talking about himself. That seems more plausible, given recent evidence.