The Evolution of Legislation: a Bioinformatics Approach

About thirty major pieces of government legislation are produced annually in the UK. As there are five main opportunities to amend each bill (two stages in the Commons and three in the Lords) and bills may undergo hundreds, even thousands, of amendments, comprehensive quantitative analysis of legislative changes is almost impossible by manual methods. We used insights from bioinformatics to develop a semi-automatic procedure to map the changes in successive versions the text of a bill as it passes through parliament. This novel tool for scholars of the parliamentary process could be used, for example, to compare amendment patterns over time, between different topics or governments, and between it enacted Continue reading

Who’s Satisfied?

In a previous post (also published on the LSE British politics and policy blog) I showed that satisfaction with the leaders of the two main parties was a good predictor of electoral outcomes over the past 9 UK general elections. That measure, however, combines responses from people who support the party and those who don’t. So in this post I’m exploring leader satisfaction among party supporters as a way of measuring the level of ‘enthusiastic support.’ Continue reading

Commentary in Psychological Science

This is a joint post by Ruth Dixon and Jonathan Jones about our Commentary entitled ‘Conspiracist Ideation as a Predictor of Climate Science Rejection: An Alternative Analysis.’. [The link is now to the version of record, published in May 2015].

After nearly a year, two journals, and four rounds of review, our Commentary on two studies by Stephan Lewandowsky was published in Psychological Science on 26 March 2015. This post describes our findings in more detail than the tight word-limit in Psychological Science allowed.

In two papers published in 2013, Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues Gilles Gignac and Klaus Oberauer suggested that ‘conspiracist ideation’ (the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories) predicted scepticism about anthropogenic climate change. In our reanalyses of the data from both studies, we found that there was a curved relationship between these variables. Both climate-change sceptics and the ‘climate-convinced’ tended to disbelieve in conspiracy theories. The linear models used by Lewandowsky and colleagues were therefore not appropriate descriptions of the data. Both datasets show this effect, although they resulted from very different survey types (the first surveyed readers of ‘climate blogs’ (LOG13-blogs, published in Psychological Science) and the second surveyed a panel representative of the US population (LGO13-panel, published in PLoS)), so we are confident that our findings are robust.

As we describe in more detail later in this post, our main finding was that there is a curved relationship between belief in anthropogenic climate change (CLIM) and belief in conspiracy theories (CY). This curvilinear relationship is most clearly seen in the LGO13-panel dataset (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The curved relationship between belief in anthropogenic climate change (CLIM) and in conspiracy theories (CY) (Loess plot, 95% confidence intervals). Higher values correspond to higher levels of belief or endorsement.

Figure 1. The curved relationship between belief in anthropogenic climate change (CLIM) and in conspiracy theories (CY) (Loess plot, 95% confidence intervals). Higher values correspond to higher levels of belief or endorsement.

As we argue below, all this really shows is that people who are undecided about one fairly technical matter (conspiracy theories) also have no firm opinion about another (climate change). The complex statistical models used by Lewandowsky et al. mask this rather obvious and uninteresting finding.

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Met Office Report Says Sea Levels Likely to Rise 11-16 cm by 2030?

Update 11 Feb 2014: Met Office says Oh, you thought we meant from now? No, from 1990! See comment from Richard Betts, below and the updated Met Office report.

13 Feb: A further comment from Richard confirms that the Met Office projections for UK sea level rise are 5 to 7 cm between now and 2030.

This is an edited version of a comment I made on Bishop Hill on 9 Feb:

In February 2014 the Met Office and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) published a report called “The Recent Storms and Floods in the UK”. (pdf of original version here). The report makes an interesting prediction about sea level rise by 2030 on p.21 (the same figures are also given on p.2):

Sea level along the English Channel has already risen by about 12cm in the last 100 years. With the warming we are already committed to over the next few decades, a further 11-16cm of sea level rise is likely by 2030. This equates to 23-27cm of total sea level rise since 1900. We are very confident that sea level will continue to rise over coming decades as the planet continues to warm. These numbers represent our current best estimate for the UK.

That implies that the rate of sea level rise (SLR) in the English Channel will more than double in the next 16 years to 7 to 10 mm per year (on average) from the current 3 mm per year. And assuming that the rate of SLR does not leap to the new level in the first year, a linear increase from the current rate implies a rate of about 15 mm per year by 2030.

Is there something special about the English Channel? It’s hard to reconcile this with the IPCC projections in AR5 Chapter 13.

No citations are given for this statement in an otherwise well-referenced document. I’ll update this post if I find out more.

Update: Tim Channon has plotted a graph of how this prediction compares to past SLR at Newlyn, Cornwall (the national sea level monitoring station)

Update 2: Richard Betts is on the case…

Update 3: I think Tim Channon may have nailed the problem (2030 should be 2100?). Although, this would mean that the Met Office is expecting no acceleration of SLR over a century, while the IPCC expects it to at least double by 2080-2100. We’ll see what the Met Office comes up with.

This doesn’t turn out to be the Met Office’s error, but you can see his original graph at

Update 4: The Met Office have ‘clarified’ their statement, which apparently relates to a 1990 baseline. See Richard Betts’ comment below. See also Tim Channon’s new post and graph: tchannon-image-356

Update 5: A few final thoughts from me in a comment below.

Update 6: Nic Lewis tackles the UKCP09 projections on Bishop Hill and Euan Mearns looks at the Met Office report as a whole on his blog.

The Oceans are Not More Acidic Now Than in the Past 300 Million Years [UPDATED]

…despite what the Guardian says. Update: …as the Guardian now agrees.

[Update: 9 Oct 2013 13.01 pm: The headline and first paragraph of the article have now been changed following email correspondence between Fiona Harvey and me. Credit to Fiona and the Guardian for this response. The links now lead to the updated version which can be compared with the screenshot below. Further update: See also for a side-by-side comparison.]

Fiona Harvey’s article in the Guardian on 3 October 2013 Ocean acidification due to carbon emissions is at highest for 300m years misrepresents the scientific literature. This error has propagated across the Twittersphere.

(H/T Latimer Alder for the tweet that alerted me to this article)

Harvey wrote (my emphasis)

‘The oceans are more acidic now than they have been for at least 300m years, due to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, and a mass extinction of key species may already be almost inevitable as a result, leading marine scientists warned on Thursday.

In the starkest warning yet of the threat to ocean health, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) said: “This [acidification] is unprecedented in the Earth’s known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun.” It published its findings in the State of the Oceans report, collated every two years from global monitoring and other research studies.’

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