Cornell University, Nov. 17, 2006

I’m going to Cornell University on Nov. 17 at the invitation to give a lecture to Sinan Unur’s economics policy class on my adventures in climate. Oddly enough, I’ve never given a presentation to a university class in my life. It wasn’t something that you did in math classes in the olden days. My only previous invitation from a university came from KTH in Sweden for their seminar in September. (My presentation at Vreij University in Amsterdam was sponsored by Natuurwetenschap & Techniek, rather than the university.)

Cornell has an excellent statistics and economics program.  Vogelsang, who I’ve cited in connection with regression, is from Cornell.

I visited Cornell once before in 1968 – my fraternity had a chapter there. One of the guys on our trip to Ithaca was nicknamed Moose – it sounds like an ancient movie. For some reason, I can remember the tune to a doggerel version of the Cornell school song – “Far above Cayuga’s waters, ….”.

Over the years, I’ve known 5 people who’ve played on Cornell teams. I remember going out to play football when I was about 9 or 10 with my father and a fellow, Bruce Pattison. who went on to become captain of the Cornell hockey team, who was already a great athlete. My father who was then about 33 or 34 prided himself on being able to punt with either leg. Showing off, he punted with one leg and got a charley horse; not to be deterred in front of the young prodigy, he kicked with the other leg, got a charley horse in it and could barely walk home.

Ken Dryden, the hockey player, went to Cornell. After playing in the NCAA tournament one year, he was called up by Montreal and was the outstanding player in the Stanley Cup final in the same year. He won the Conn Smythe before he won the rookie of the year. Our sons played baseball together about 10 years ago.

Sam Amukun [update: Sam was at Colgate, not Cornell] was a geologist originally from Uganda who worked down in Guyana for one of our small exploration companies, who died tragically of Guillain-Barre syndrome about 5 years ago. When I met him, he was about 55 years old, about 5 foot 8 or 9 and about 220 pounds. Someone told me that he’d been in the Olympics; I assumed that he’d been a wrestler or something like that. It turned out that he’d been a 100-meter sprinter who’d been to two semi-finals (Rome, Tokyo) against the likes of Bob Hayes and Harry Jerome. He still held the Ugandan record as of a few years ago. His getting to Cornell sounds like the movie where Kevin Bacon went to Africa. An American coach came out to his little prep school and lined the kids up at one end of the soccer field. He won easily and ended up in Cornell, where he was later captain of their track team and in their Hall of Fame.

Subsequently he went to the University of Manitoba to take a masters in geology, where he married a beautiful Jamaican girl. After graduation, he got a job with Falconbridge at the Kilembe mine in Uganda, where he was employed at ex-pat salary, so he was doing very well in Uganda terms. One day, Idi Amin came to visit the mine and noticed Sam’s wife. Just after lunch, someone in the Ugandan secret service phoned Sam and told him – Don’t go back to your desk; get Daphne and drive through back roads to Kenya; don’t pick up any pictures or papers; go right now. Idi Amin was going to take Sam’s wife as a concubine and throw Sam into jail as a supposed spy.
Needless to say, my preparations haven’t been helped by my computer crash (it’s working again now, but it’s cost a couple of days that I’d not bargained for.)


  1. Gary
    Posted Nov 15, 2006 at 9:44 PM | Permalink

    Enjoy Ithaca, although it will be gray and bleak this time of year. I took my one stats class at Cornell many years ago. As a TA I had a Canadian hockey players in one of the labs I taught. A lot were imported to fill the Big Red teams in the 60s and 70s and I saw many a game at Lynah rink. Maybe you can catch one on this trip. College hockey often is more entertaining than the pros. “Far above Cayuga’s waters with her waves of blue, stands our (something) alma mater glorious to view.” That’s all I remember.

    Steve, what’s the lecture about?

  2. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Nov 15, 2006 at 11:01 PM | Permalink

    Actually there was a Dardinger at Cornell until recently. She went to school there and later taught environmental science. I’m sure I’ve seen her a couple of times at family reunions (she’s a first cousins daughter) but never to talk to much. Anyway I noticed recently that she’s taken a position as Director of Education at someplace called the Carolina Raptor Center so I can’t urge you to look her up while you’re there.

  3. T J Olson
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 2:55 AM | Permalink

    Although rich and huge now, Cornell was, close to its founding in 1865, the model and inspiration of the land-grant state university in the US.

    The state of New York designated the institution as its own land-grant university before a federal act spread the notion widely. To this day, three of its divisions remain part of the state system: agriculture, human ecology, and veterinary medicine. These are called “contract colleges,” operating like public colleges, but under private auspices. Thus, places like the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Indiana University in Bloomington – and many places like them further West – owe their overall sprawling campus appearance and broad institutional ambitions to Cornell in upstate New York.

    One of the two founders (Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White, a famous freethinker and Cornell’s first president) wrote: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” (Ah, it was Cornell who said it.) This was a unique and visionary ambition for its time. But today many of the US states take it for granted as natural and normal.

    After WWII, the University of CaIifornia system is believed to have taken this educational model to its limits.

    Given the spatial proximity and British origins of our respective nations, it is remarkable that this comprehensive vision of education’s transformative value for society is absent in Canada. By this I mean that our neighbors did not embrace higher educational universalism through multiple means – private, sectarian, and broadly public. Instead, Canada relies mostly upon state support. And its vision of service is relatively limited instead of flexible and ambitious, ie, relatively more British than American-style.

    Perhaps this division has to everything do with accidents of historical timing. US education grew like topsy after the Civil War, while the Act of Dominion creating Canada (if I have it right?), set our neighbor nation on a separate course, closer to her models origins. The American Revolution set the US on a more independent path, with mongrel improvisations along the way. However, later Canadian universities, particularly out West, could be said to be more influenced by US examples than British precedent.

    At any rate, do try the Cornell campus food, Steve. They even have their own creamery! – so very different from Toronto and the other Ivies of the Northeast.

  4. T J Olson
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 3:14 AM | Permalink

    PS To the westerner and former mid-westerner like me, Cornell is like a breath fo fresh air compared to the tony stuffiness of older Northeastern colleges and universities. It embodies an important transition in US higher educational history, resulting in an easy familiarity. Your story of Sam Amukun in Uganda reminds one of how much we take our peace and security and human capital for granted. Some places in the world are forever hoping to find our continent’s amity and institutional treasures – and yet that too was a long, slow achievement the long 19th Century, beginning with the demilitarization of the Great Lakes after the War of 1812.

  5. Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 5:17 AM | Permalink

    According to Wikipedia, that encyclopedia that any idiot can edit, Sam’s first name was Erasmus.

  6. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 6:22 AM | Permalink

    It looks like Sam didn’t make the semi-finals in 1964 after all. It’s not something that he ever said. Legends do grow. I’m sorry to lose that one. He had an interesting perspective on the Donovan Bailey-Michael Johnson match race as a former world-class sprinter. When Johnson pulled up lame as Bailey was passing him, Sam’s perspective was that you couldn’t say that Johnson lost because he was injured, as much as that he injured himself because he lost – in the sense that, as Bailey was pulling past him, Johnson reached for a gear that wasn’t there and injured himself in the process. Sam said that Johnson was already beaten.

    In Ontario, the 19th century influence on universities was probably more from the Scottish universities than the English universities. One of my friends has just written a book on the topic.

  7. Louis Hissink
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 6:26 AM | Permalink


    The life of a geologist seems to be fraught with difficulties – stockholders, dictators, glowball vormers……

    Best for the presentation though.

  8. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 11:17 AM | Permalink

    RE: #3 and 4 – It’s been a long time since I read the detailed history but I seem to recall that at the time of its founding in 1868, The University of California (aka “Cal”) actually started at as a Christian college, I don’t recall the particular sect. And indeed, the post war boom took it from Cal, the LA campus, and Cal’s medical and ag adjuncts (which respectively became UCSF and UC Davis later) to a statewide network of campuses. UC Santa Barabara was the initial “new” campus (but only “new” in a sense, in that it actually administratively inherited a State College which had started out earlier as the Santa Barbara State Normal School, a teachers’ college, when the USMC base at Goleta shut down after the war, UC moved from the previous campus in town). Then other campuses at San Diego, Irvine, Riverside and Santa Cruz came on line, rounding things out until fairly recently – a new campus in the San Joaquin Valley is currently under development. (As some here already know, UCSB and Cal are my Alma Materi 😉 )

  9. Gordon
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

    Re: 3 –

    The University of Michigan is not a land grant college. Michigan State University
    is. Please don’t ever confuse the two!

    Michigan was founded in 1817.

    Go Blue!

  10. Howard Wiseman
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 11:28 AM | Permalink

    Hey Gordon:


  11. bender
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 11:39 AM | Permalink

    buckeyes = gator bait

  12. Howard Wiseman
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink;s=18;w=525

  13. bender
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 12:05 PM | Permalink

    Ohio Wiseguy, that’s your name. 😉

  14. Howard Wiseman
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 12:20 PM | Permalink

    Brandeis ’81, NYU Law ’84, niece OSU ’07, OSU Homecoming Queen

  15. Barclay E. MacDonald
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 7:59 PM | Permalink

    Steve, what is to be the topic of your lecture? It seems to me that that this invitation may be a compliment by Professor Onur to your increasing credibility. It also would seem that these opportunities indeed serve to continue to increase your credibility. Or is the invitation just a reflection of your notoriety?

  16. TAC
    Posted Nov 16, 2006 at 8:25 PM | Permalink

    Steve, congratulations on the invite to Cornell, but are you sure about the date? During my five years at Cornell, I don’t recall any Sunday classes.

  17. T J Olson
    Posted Nov 18, 2006 at 3:49 PM | Permalink

    Thank you all for the details.

    The list of the Land Grant colleges and universitied rooted in the Morril Act is rather few.

    Clearly, however, the influential ideal of the comprehensive and transformative potentials of higher education is vastly larger. THIS was my point above, and how Cornell became the model for organizing these instiutions, making education available in any area of study.

    Many other institutions were influenced by separate state land grants – public lands sold to benefit a state educational insitution. Others, simply because of the vision I’ve articulated above. Other than Steve’s note about Scottish influence on Ontario education, does no one have any insights into sources of Canada’s divergent path after the mid-19th century?

  18. bender
    Posted Nov 18, 2006 at 11:08 PM | Permalink

    Steve M,
    With TCO’s absence I feel compelled to offer unsolicited advice. Apologies in advance.

    Do not overwhelm your audience with dozens upon dozens of data-rich slides.

    You have many messages you could deliver. Do not yield to the temptation to tell your whole story. Tell the story of how you broke the hockey stick; but don’t go into too much detail. Make sure that that feat is put into context. Because most people will want to know what this all means for the AGW hypothesis. Let them know that up front, so that they aren’t squirming in their seats wondering about the relevance of all these complex time-series and strange statistics.

    In your posts you tend to use the “mystery story” approach, where you build to a climax. I hope that in your talks you do not use this strategy, where one builds up to some critical set of revelations. That style in science tends to leave people bewildered. Use a straghtforward 3-step approach. Tell people what you’re going to tell them. Tell them it. Then summarize what you just told them.

    You have some tough choices to make. How do you handle the “independence” issue? Do you discuss Wegman’s social network analysis? When discussing due diligence do you get into the petty stuff about extended communications and obfuscation over code procurement? Make those choices.

    On due diligence: be aware that lots of academics disagree with the idea that they should be forced to freely share “their” intellectual property. I think a distinction needs to be made as to how to vet pure science vs. policy-driving science. i.e. There’s a time for monopoly and a time for sharing.

    Leave lots and lots of time for questions. Last thing you want is everyone leaving the room wondering what they’ve just heard.

    Good luck. On the one hand I know you don’t really need all this advice. On the other hand, I know you will feel a strong urge to pack too much into your talk, especially all the details of paleoclimatology that you love so much. Resist that urge.

  19. Nicholas
    Posted Nov 19, 2006 at 5:25 AM | Permalink

    bender, I think you gave some good (unsolicited) advice, but just a little comment I’d like to add:

    On due diligence: be aware that lots of academics disagree with the idea that they should be forced to freely share “their” intellectual property. I think a distinction needs to be made as to how to vet pure science vs. policy-driving science. i.e. There’s a time for monopoly and a time for sharing.

    Like it or not, if they want to practice science, and not just play around with pet theories, I’d argue they must share their data/code. I know it’s debatable, but as you and I know, one of the cornerstones of science is independent verification and reproduceability of results. You can argue that code/data sharing is not strictly required to meet this criteria, but I would argue that it is (and is in human knowledge’s best interest). After all, it’s a scientist’s business to advance collective knowledge, not his or her own prestige—that should be incidental.

    Now, I realize that to be pragmatic, we must recognize that people don’t feel this way and trying the “hard sell” approach is inappropriate. But I just thought I would point out that ultimately I think they ought to get used to the idea of sharing results fully.

    Independent verification is, after all, one of the main practices which differentiates science from quackery.

  20. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Nov 19, 2006 at 6:16 AM | Permalink

    I’m back from Cornell. As someone observed, they dont have Sunday lectures at Cornell – the date was not Nov 19, it wsa Nov 17, which I’ve edited to show. I was very hospitably received by Sinan Unur, who’s originally from Turkey. In passing, I have very favorable memories of Turkish hospitality from a trip in 1981 or 1982. My wife and I travelled from Istanbul to Rhodes along the Aegean coast of Turkey, usually eating in small local restaurants. There weren’t a lot of tourists. Invariably, someone, recognizing us as visitors, would send us over a fruit ot dessert platter. They didn’t speak English or want to talk or have any ulterior motive. They just were being hospitable. It left a very good impression, which I carry to this day.

    The take-home message for the class was simply that the matters were more unsettled than they look and that there were some pretty questionable practices used in the manufacture of the HS.

    Sinan wanted to see (And show the class) one of the more “data-rich” slides that I have on hand – a plot of all the proxies; and a plot of tree ring chronologies. These show rather vividly the unique role of bristlecones.

    I drove down to Cornell, which is about the same distance from Toronto as Ottawa, but hard to fly to. One odd thing that I noticed was that all the leaves were down in rural New York state. In Toronto, most of the leaves are down, but not all. On my street, there is still some color. When I returned, I looked more closely to see why I had this impression. To a large extent, it’s from the smaller trees and shrubs, most of which (even some small maples) still have leaves. But many of the bigger trees will still have a few straggling leaves on the tips of their branches. The weeping willows still have their leaves – a noticeable bright yellow that you notice from the highway. The big silver maple in our back yard has lost nearly all its leaves, but a small weedy Manitoba maple has most of its leaves. There wasn’t a sign of color in New York state, so I presume that the later leaves in Toronto are due to some kind of urban heat island effect. Given that Phil Jones has proven that this effect is a maximum of 0.1 degree C or so, it’s remarkable that this 0.1 deg C can have such an effect on leaf retention.

  21. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Nov 19, 2006 at 7:48 AM | Permalink

    re: #20 Steve,

    Given that Phil Jones has proven that this effect is a maximum of 0.1 degree C or so, it’s remarkable that this 0.1 deg C can have such an effect on leaf retention.

    Well, I know you’re just tweaking Jones, but lest passerbys get the wrong impression I want to point out that we realize that the .1 dec C is based on the likely average amount of UHI effect on global temperature. The problem, of course, is that it’s not likely that the effect is that low on global temperature MEASUREMENT. Until the way the adjustments for UHI are audited in detail by truly independent people, it’s entirely possible that the supposed temperature rise the last few decades of the 1900s is artifically inflated.

  22. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Nov 19, 2006 at 7:50 AM | Permalink

    Make that “passersby”. I hate it when I make that sort of mistake.

  23. Posted Nov 19, 2006 at 9:42 AM | Permalink


    Thank you very much for taking the time to visit us. Your presentation in PAM 340 Economics of Consumer Policy was very useful and I think the comparison graph of various proxies highlighting the role of bristle cones in reconstructions and will facilitiate useful reconsideration of how much certainty exists.

    Other faculty members whom you had a chance to meet have expressed their appreciation as well.

    Sinan Unur

  24. Don Weiss
    Posted Apr 5, 2008 at 11:51 AM | Permalink

    Amukun went to Colgate, not Cornell. Class of 1966. One of my closest friends friends. Still holds or co-holds (in 4×100 etc) several Colgate track records.

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