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Climate and network connections

Filed under: — rasmus @ 1 April 2010

by Rasmus & Jim

Who would think that Internet, ideas, disease, money, birds, and climate literacy have anything in common? Recent progress on complex systems and network theory suggests that they all can be described in terms of a ‘Levy flight‘. A recent and lengthy paper with the title ‘A study on interconnections between climate related ideas in complex networks’ (Ann. Trans. ICCPRS Soc. 52(3):1647-71; subscription required) by John McVenus argues that new ideas can be traced over the Internet just like dollar bills are traced at Wheresgeorge. Our take on this is that this study muddles things more than clarifying the facts – probably because McVenus tries to explain almost everything.

Random walks (RW) may have a much wider applicability than just describing climatic processes (see ‘Naturally trendy?‘). Recent progress on complex systems and nonlinear network information theory suggests that many information transfer and evolution processes exhibit characteristics that are effectively modeled by RW or its variants. These concepts can help us to understand the transmission and evolution of ideas in science, particularly when an extensive communication network (i.e. the internet) is a dominant communication medium, as it very much is today, and probably will be for some time.

There is, in particular, one type of random walk known as a “Levy flight“, which is simply a walk in which a highly skewed distribution of step distances leads to a small percentage of steps that are much larger than average (“jumps” or “flights”), altering the system state rather abruptly. Such behaviour can be studied with methods such as the agent-based approach for describing the spread of disease and meta-population models, but are used in McVenus to describe how information travels. Similar “agent-based” approaches are also used for example, in ecology for the modeling of metapopulation dynamics and the spread of diseases and wildfires.

After briefly laying out some conceptual and mathematical bases for Levy flight behavior and analysis, McVenus gets quickly to details. He begins a long litany of interesting examples with the recently proposed idea that orbital patterns in Jupiter and Saturn can in fact affect the solar center of mass, which in turn influences the level of solar activity, and hence the climate.

The McVenus paper also cites a small group in Norway which argues that changes in the moon’s orbit affects the climate through changes in ocean circulation, sea-ice cover, and hence the climate. This group coordinates a project called ‘Luna-Ticks’, and is interested in the idea of Jupiter and Saturn. But nobody has ever seen a Jupiter-tide or Saturn-tide here on Earth, and hence, they fear that critics convincingly will argue that the effect of the planets is pretty weak. But they really do like the idea, and instead proposed that the general principle could be translated to the moon and its measurable effect here on Earth. Everything but greenhouse gases, they argue, affects our climate.

Some bloggers have dubbed the process through which such arguments spread as ‘dispersion of confusion‘, which does not follow a simple diffusion law, but exhibits strange characteristics in addition to distant leaps in space. In addition to spreading, the ideas also change over time, morphing into new concepts, according to the McVenus paper.

While much more investigation into this topic is needed to get any sort of reasonable estimate of when and exactly how such conditions might be important, from an information flow analysis perspective, it is a fairly easy trace from there to the recent proclamation that astronomical alignments (astrology) can cause the climate to change, however strangely misguided such a pronouncement may be. Fair and straightforward enough; a good choice of examples with which to illustrate McVenus’ overall approach. But from here things start to get more complex–and highly interesting–pretty quickly.

McVenus further proposes that there is also a wealth of information to derive from all the “gates” and network analysis, because their number is rather limited and their identification is easy. Usually, a “gate” is a label telling the media to start a hype, being proposed by someone with limited imagination. But there are exceptions to this rule, such as “Colgate”. This notion also exists in plural form, such as “Billgates”.

The recent “Cowgate” appears to be a highly noteworthy Levy flight example. However, the gender of this gate turned out to be wrong – it later turned out really to be a “Bullgate”. It was traced by McVenus back to its press source via a principal system node in the propagation and evolution (usually via catastrophic mutation) of multiple climate science ideas at a web site called ‘the Gate Depot’.

It could have been no small task for McVenus to accurately trace these ideas as they went through the conceptual sausage grinder, rarely resembling anything remotely like their original form, much less some aspect of external reality as we know it. But perhaps this is just the typical warmist nitpicking about evidence, discernment, truth, reality and larger scale meaning.

This node represents what McVenus calls (using the slanderous invective of scientists, which has generated 99% of the bad blood in public discussions) “a mad man with an affinity for black listing”. The language here is unfortunate, even if the idea sleuthing is still first rate. And speaking of bloodsucking and bad blood, we apparently now have a ´Draculagate‘, fresh from the Gate Depot. But here we note that McVenus may have misinterpreted things slightly. Is that really the blood bank Dracula is in charge of, or is he rather just caught up fang-deep in ketchup? Where’s the photographic, or even metaphoric, evidence? What’s up with that? Caution is urged; the analysis is good but not without errors.

It is in illuminating such otherwise opaque connections that we simply would not otherwise make, that McVenus is at his best. For example, he tracks down how the longer term surface temperature increases are based exclusively on the completely untrustworthy HadCRUT data, which are contaminated by siting issues and more generally by the impossibility of calculating a global mean temperature. These issues also affect the regional to local scales that really affect the man in the street, where urban heat island effects are exceedingly extreme, notwithstanding all the snow this winter.

But the temperatures are still not a problem to humans in the summer because of manifest human adaptability exemplified by air conditioned buildings and vehicles, even in the third world where they are just not as obvious because of there being fewer of them. And even if we jump back to the first world, the European heat wave of 2003 that killed a lot of people in urban areas cannot be due to AGW because for the umpteenhundredth time weather is not climate, and thus the hyperbolic and incendiary alarmist exaggerations based entirely on the now utterly discredited computer modeling of Pachauri’s IPCC in Himalayanglaciermeltrategate need to stop forthwith. One does not often run across comprehensive arguments of this magnitude in one place. McVenus shines like the morning star.

But an even stranger change is seen in the disperion of confusion process in terms of a combination of the the Jupiter-Saturn hypothesis with the intelligent design (ID) concept. This aspect is not really fully acknowledged in the McVenus paper. To give some quick and concise background on this vast subject, it is important to note that Richard Bawkin, the author of “The Evil Particle” is critical to ID, and has argued that due to symmetry, everything has opposites in the universe. The particles have anti-particles, there are opposite spins in quantum physics (e.g. top spin and bottom spin), and so on. If there is intelligent design, there has to be stupid design too if symmetry holds. A quote from Oscar Wilde puts it nicely into perspective: “Where the devil is the Devil in intelligent design?”.

In logical terms, idiotic designs just proves natural selection, because over time, idiotic design doesn’t survive. A new research project proposed by John Spence had an objective to try to prove the existence of the anti-intelligent design. Colleagues have informally and jokingly threatened to nominate him for the igNobel prize. Anyway the project proposal had changed when it was submitted to the Norwegian Research Foundation: Instead of looking into evil issues, the project proposed to look for stupid designs. In particular it aims to look into stock markets, Icelandic banks, Greek economy, and accelerator pedals in hybrid cars.

However, the McVenus paper turns into a more tangled mess when it at great length discusses the propagation of ideas based on the church of ‘The Flying Spaghetti monster‘ (FSM) and almost neglects ID. The paper should have noted that FSM is an anti-thesis to the ID. Nevertheless, FSM has a say on global warming and hence influences the dispersion of confusion. According to FSM, global warming is inversely related to the number of pirates in the world. In November 2003, ‘Pirate Bay‘ was founded in Sweden, correctly acknowledged in McVenus, and the Swedes managed to elect representatives from their Pirate Party into the European parliament. Since then, some FSM-climate-protagonists have argued that the recent levelling off in the global mean temperature (from CRU!) can be explained. We think that this idea is unconvincing, even though the global mean temperature from CRU hasn’t really increased much since 2003.

An interesting and somewhat related point is that John Spence also has claimed that there must be anti-blogs too, and that there exists an unrealClimate-site. It’s not so straight forward to find it, as it uses a different name, however. Bart Verheggen from wuttsupwiththat, has pointed out the site UnrealClimate’s real name may be “blogal cooling”, but others suggest that the name of the anti-site is just made up with ‘real’ and ‘climate’ in reverse order (although they would have to swap ‘.org’ with ‘’).

There are also experts and un-experts, and organizations such as the Hartland institution provides a list of known experts in the world – and they say that an ‘expert’ is a person who does not think that an increase CO2 can lead to climate change. Many of these men and women provide part of the nodes in the agent-based approach models.

Finally, one remarkable conclusion about the spread of confusion in the McVenus paper, published by the Silly Paper Publishing Inc (SPPI), is that it’s distribution has a strong resemblance to the migration of cuckoos. In addition, cuckoos do lay eggs, and hence form new generations with new characteristics, thus changing over time, just like the ideas. Hence, he concludes, it is very likely that the confusion is spread by birds.

UPDATE: Apparently the recent story regarding the global warming activist who froze to death was missed by us. We apologize for this rank oversight; fortunately numerous other highly reputable news outlets known for their thorough fact checking have been all over it, even if their original reports of this tragedy have in some cases gone missing for some reason.

UPDATE AGAIN! Apparently, there are some who deny this story about network – they claim there are disrupted networks!

173 Responses to “Climate and network connections”

  1. 1
    Garry S-J says:

    RealClimate – never afraid to tell it like it is. It’s great how you guys make this complex stuff so accessible.

  2. 2
    Robert Day says:


    Indisputable and undeniable.

    This is how real scientific research progresses.
    A post like this is worthy to be on .

  3. 3
    Edward Greisch says:

    It is April First.

  4. 4
    David Horton says:

    Yes … but …. surely that would mean that somewhere there must be a skinny Al Gore …..

  5. 5
    VeryTallGuy says:

    Sounds like a very tall tale….

  6. 6
    Tony Sidaway says:

    Reminds me of a paper I recently read from van Mondzijn.

  7. 7
    pjclarke says:

    exhibits strange characteristics in addition to distant leaps in space. In addition to spreading, the ideas also change over time, morphing into new concepts, according to the McVenus paper.

    I wonder if Mike Hulme’s neoligism-meme ‘Post-Normal Science’ qualifies in this connection? At first blush a reasonable examination of the social / hard science nodal interface, with correct identification of Avery and Singer as proponents of idiotic design, the ‘distant leap’ was evident when it was morphed by anti-expert Melanie Phillips into

    ‘Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking’ the truth of which statement seems to exist in a Heisenbergian indeterminate state of simultaneous truthiness and falsiness.

    Fascinating. I believe the Post Modern Science department at the University of San Seriffe have a major paper in preparation.

  8. 8
    mummybot says:

    So Hitchcock was right, it is all about the birds! There are so many of them – dear gods – global calamity shall befall us all!

  9. 9
    Bill McTaggart says:

    Aye, it’s a good one, that.

  10. 10
    Sou says:

    A big thank you to Rasmus and Jim for this illuminating article. It is an elegant treatise which expresses, in very simple terms, a complex and difficult topic so that even nincompoops like me can understand it. It really has brightened up my day (which started here several hours ago).

    “…it is very likely that the confusion is spread by birds”

    I assume you are referring to the g-bird who has been identified by birdwatchers as cuckoo, and flies into threads smearing them with bird poo. This bird recently migrated from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere (where he suffered cruel treatment).

    Some people surmise the unusual northern migration was because the bird was confused as a result of climate change in its home territory. Thankfully for those up north, the bird now appears to have made its way back to the southern hemisphere.

  11. 11
    James Albinson says:

    I am still trying to retrieve my head from the wastebasket, and my feet from the toaster!

  12. 12
    Dan Olner says:

    Being an agent-based modeller, I read on with growing alarm and confusion… damn you!

  13. 13

    At first I thought you were describing a real paper… then I remembered the date.

  14. 14
    Richard Lloyd says:

    I’d forgotten it was April 1st for a minute there.

  15. 15
    Alan of Oz says:

    You had me up until bullgate. :)

  16. 16
    Heraclitus says:

    But every day is fool day in the deniocene.

  17. 17
    Sou says:

    BTW, in the third last para, the link to Bart Verheggen’s blog, and the post where he used the term blogal cooling is incorrect – it should link to:

  18. 18
    Frank says:

    In this Fools’ Paradise your piece will be cited as a refutation of AGW.

    Frank Johnston

  19. 19
    oca sapiens says:

    Best Poisson distribution of the day, please put a warning at the top, “remove eye make-up before perusal”

  20. 20
    Velocity says:

    “The ocean rules. The atmosphere is a thin byproduct of the ocean” as Dr Jeffrey Glassman puts it. His new paper (27/03/2010) is titled;

    The Fingerprint of the Sun is on the Earths 160 year temperature record, contradicting IPCC conclusions, fingerprinting & AGW’.

    Have a good read and by all means submit your illusion that ecologies atmospheric plant fertilize, CO2, moves the oceans as well as Earths climate!! Enjoy…

  21. 21
    _Flin_ says:

    Bullgate uncovered: Blogal Cooling is real!

    This is Epic.

  22. 22
    Ray Ladbury says:

    You know, it makes more sense than most of what you read over at Micro-Watt’s place. Has anybody sent this to the South Dakota Leg?

  23. 23
    Fleury says:

    Good April fish!

  24. 24
    Daniel the Yooper says:

    Heraclitus says:
    1 April 2010 at 5:45 AM

    “But every day is fool day in the deniocene.”

    So much for the term Anthropocene: Deniocene = Way Better. Classic!


    Daniel the Yooper

  25. 25
    FM says:

    Any bets on when this will be picked up by

  26. 26
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Light is from the Sun.
    Jokes are from McVenus.

  27. 27
    Brian Brademeyer says:

    Give it the silver, with the sheep albedo effect still on top.

  28. 28
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I dispute the disputed cowgate (or bullgate) issue. The denialists and confusionists (not to be confused with the Confuciusists) are always looking for a silver bullshit to explain global warming (or its lack thereof), when they should be considering the whole complexity of “Levy flight” type actions of ordinary people in their chaotic everyday lives.

    Not turning off the engine in drive-thrus, yes, is a contributor to AGW, but failing to order the veggie burger and ordering the cow (or bull) burger instead also has its place in the whole mess of AGW (and has ramifications of excessive use of medical facilities re the cholesterol clogging the arteries, and all those gas-guzzling trips to the docctor and phaarmacy).

    One cannot hide behind the “I recycle every Sunday” type of cover, especially when one leaves the engine running at the recycling center as they dump a week’s worth of (= a car-load full of) waste products because they failed to “precycle” and select items with less packaging in the first place, and were just downright gluttonous.

  29. 29
    Pete H says:

    Tuvalu is sinking!!! Save yourselves.

  30. 30
    Jaime Frontero says:

    Oh Lord – teh stupid…

    BUT; had RC not published this article I would never have seen the link, in paragraph seven, to South Dakota’s House Concurrent Resolution #1009:

    “That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect world weather phenomena…”

    Not only ‘astrological’ (*sigh*) – and ‘thermological’ (can somebody tell me what that word means, please?) – but ‘effect’. EFFECT?

    A fine argument illustrating the benefits of educational requirements for elected office.

    I will now turn off my computer for the rest of the day. Nothing could possibly top this.

  31. 31
    Rolan O. Clark says:

    Sounds like an April fools post to me !!

  32. 32
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Thanks for this. It has real value and real humor, and must have required real work.

  33. 33
    Bob says:

    Okay, it took me until the “Colgate” and “Billgates” jokes to realize what this was. I’m so frigg’n gullible (must be why I believe in AGW, the skeptics will say).

  34. 34
    Sili says:

    Of course it’s the birds!

    Birds in flight have a larger shadow than sitting ducks, ergo they help to keep the Earth cool. When they sit down for a rest the world gets hotter, and when the world gets hotter it’s harder for birds to fly, and so we have runaway positive feedback. Lazy boids cause -> global warming -> lazier boids.

    Solution: go out and scare up some avians until there are enough of them aloft to block out the Sun.

  35. 35
    Steve Fish says:

    More things well said on RC. Collected, without attribution (but you know who you are), over the last several months and presented with minor editing and spell checking:

    We pretend that dumping effluent all over ourselves and our neighbors is perfectly acceptable, and even better free. Something about the “free market” and how efficient it is.

    I live next to a creek. I could hang a board with a hole in it over the back of my property and get away with “no” sewage bill, if I had the same attitude.

    Re a 100 page Watts report on how surface station data are deliberately biased: Suffice to say, almost the only truthful statements in the “paper” are the page numbers.

    Red herring served with straw man and a bottle of whine. Dissent that is a logical fallacy whipped into a froth argument from belief.

    But every argument you make only has “in my lifetime” attached to it. That sort of view will make suicide bombers innocent of murder: they won’t kill anyone in their lifetime, will they.

    He suggests we concentrate efforts on ghgs other than CO2 has merit–at least while we wait for rectal haberdashery to go out of style.

    Denialjection–1) A denialist’s tendency to project. 2) A denialist’s tendency to mimic the language of people they’re at odds with. 3) A denialist’s sense of sadness at not being able to keep up, often expressed as outrage.

    MetaGate: The scandal whereby journalists lack the imagination to come up with a better suffix than “-gate”.

    To say that there hasn’t been statistically significant warming over a short period is like a parent finding that his or her child has not exhibited any statistically significant growth this month. (Time to start prescribing the growth hormones!)

    “you warmers”
    What do you call the marine biologists concerned about pH change — acidifiers?

    “you warmers”
    How about this for those who believe in gravity — downers.

    “you warmers”
    Those who believe it’s natural cycles — unicyclists, bicyclists, tricyclists

    I’ve been wondering….What field of science makes one an expert on both the climate and the health effects of smoking?


    Getting hung up on paleo-climate reconstructions as the ‘issue’ is just missing the forest for the tree rings.

    It would be like trying to explain homotopic geometry to a giraffe with scrapie.

    I think there’s huge unconscious resistance to acknowledging that the American dream has become a planetary nightmare. Our gods are too small.

    What have you done to the cat? It looks half dead! –Mrs. Schrodinger

    Short ones:

    You are what you bleat.

    Septic think tank

    Snarkland institute



    Guilt by suspicion










    Kudos to the authors! Steve

  36. 36

    Bravo! Somewhere this idea is going viral, or perhaps growing Levy-flight wings.

  37. 37

    They shoot birds you know! April 1st good entertainment but only Laughing Gulls get the message.

    [Response: I guess black birds will have a different effect to white birds ;-) ]

  38. 38
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #34, Sili & “Okay, it took me until the “Colgate” and “Billgates” jokes to realize what this was. I’m so frigg’n gullible (must be why I believe in AGW, the skeptics will say).”

    I’m so gullible that even though I knew it was April 1st & was longing for the RC April Fools post — it’s been a pretty bummer year for a person who expected back in 1990 to simply tell people about AGW and its money-saving solutions, who would tell others, who would tell others, and we’d be well on the road to cutting U.S. GHG emissions 50% or more by 2000 — that I expected this post to be an April Fools, but as I read it, I actually started thinking that it was a real post about a real study…..and thought, “Oh no, they forgot to do their April Fools post.”

    Thanks for the uplift, Rasmus & Jim. This ranks right up their one about the tennis racket graph (can’t find it now).

  39. 39
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Here’s that post I just referred to — Doubts about the Advent of Spring at

  40. 40
    Fred Magyar says:

    But nobody has ever seen a Jupiter-tide or Saturn-tide here on Earth, and hence, they fear that critics convincingly will argue that the effect of the planets is pretty weak.

    Well, the critics will be washed away. This is perfectly consistent with The Grand Unified Theory and the research into Climate Change that is soon to be done at CERN’s LHC.

    Since Electrons, Photons, Quarks and Gluons all are just different manifestations of energy and the four forces, electromagnetic, strong, weak and gravitational (very very very weak)are really all one and the same, it stands to reason that the effects of the other planets in the solar system will affect the climate on Earth. It’s really gravity from Saturn and Jupiter added to the photons from the sun that is heating up our atmosphere by creating electromagnetic fields that block the heat from radiating back into space. Not to mention that all that dark invisible energy that exists between all the quarks on earth has a very high albedo.

    Of course since the LHC will soon create a black hole that will swallow up the whole earth it doesn’t much matter ;-)

  41. 41
    oca sapiens says:

    @Brian Brademeyer
    “sheep albedo”
    The science isn’t settled, today Hendreck Svampmark has a preprint on about “cowsmic rays”: arXiv:1003.6043

  42. 42
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #24, I’ve been looking for a term for the denialists’ science. How about “denioscience” where science is done backwards (I posted about agenda-driven science earlier, as opposed to science-driven agenda).

    The research hypothesis is their null, and their research hypothesis is that nothing is happening, and any argument will surfice or sigif. level, like .99, to reject their null, that AGW is happening & is harmful, and accept their research hypothesis that nothin’s happening.

    Strawmen, red herrings, and kicking dead horses can also be used to reject their null (that AGW is true). Or, if one totally lacks imagination, then “it’s my religious belief that AGW is not happening” also works, along with “Say, wasn’t there supposed to be the Apocalypse about now. Well, then it’s all God’s doing. Hallelujah!”

  43. 43
    dhogaza says:

    Give it the silver, with the sheep albedo effect still on top.

    The sheep albedo effect paper is unbeatable, so I agree – a silver to today’s piece.

    Jaime, above: “thermology” refers to thermal medical imaging. Every time you get scanned, the world warms a bit, apparently.

  44. 44
    Stephan Matthiesen says:

    @Lynn Vincenthnathan
    “I’ve been looking for a term for the denialists’ science. How about “denioscience” where science is done backwards”

    I call it “ecneics”. That sounds like an obscure and mysterious method, and it is science backwards.

  45. 45
    Frank Giger says:



    Puns are simply their own reward.

  46. 46
    David B. Benson says:


  47. 47
    Bob says:

    Stephan, #44:

    I like ecneics. The science of ecneics. I love it. I’ll have to remember to use it when talking with or about citpekses (reineds? tsilaineds?).

  48. 48
    Deech56 says:

    The ‘Luna-Ticks’ started to make me wonder, so I Googled the journal name just to be sure. Good one, but it’s hard to top the SD House Bill for April Fool’s madness. Wait, that wasn’t a joke?

  49. 49
    CM says:

    Wow! It must have cost you guys a fortune to set up all those spoof websites you link to. Like the South Dakota legislature.

    What did you say? They’re real? Heh, pull the other one, I know what date it is.

  50. 50
    Geoff Wexler says:

    This is just another attempt to close down the debate. Ian Plimer applied the phenomonon of Levy flights years ago in his SSAMAQTCOTWO theory i.e sunspot and magnetically assisted quantum tunneling of carbon dioxide . When circumstances are just right, vast amounts of ionised carbon dioxide tunnel from the Venusian atmosphere to that of the earth. It takes about 2 minutes to add more CO2 to the atmosphere than humans have achieved in 150 years.

    According to the up-market Spectator, there is no need to worry about global warming, because Plimer has devised a method of making the CO2 tunnel backwards. But thanks to the CRU’s scandalous manipulation his application to do the experiment has been rejected.