Small Tyrants, Large Tyrannies

I was watching an interesting show on Link TV ( A very Loony Lefty “Public” TV channel on the satellite dish – which I watch from time to time as they have some irritant value for stimulating pearls of ideas…). It was about The Commons. The general thesis was that The Commons has been steadily usurped by the Evil Market to the detriment of us all. ( I may do a bit on that in some other posting…) There was also a pointer to Elinor Ostrom who got a Nobel prize for Economics for her work on the commons (that, predictably, claims to show there is no real “Tragedy of the Commons” and we can all be happy to make our communes and live our communal lives free of evil exploitation…) Yes, I’ve got a lot to say about that, but it will have to wait. (The ‘short form’ is that there IS a “Tragedy of the Commons” but it can be overcome in some circumstances via a kind of governance. To define that governance as non-government and then conclude there is no “Tragedy of the Commons” is, er, quite a stretch. But yes, we can and do form self governing “commons” that work.)

This was in the context of a comment by BlueIce2HotSeas on another thread that had me thinking about how we got here, why the participants protect their turf, and how to get out of this Tragedy of Tyrannies. https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/what-trend/#comment-8966

So I’d now postulate that Climate Science is subject to what I will christen “The Tragedy of Small Tyrannies”. (And perhaps all science suffers in this way).

The Tyranny of Small Decisions

Along the way, I was reminded of the Economic Problem described as the Tyranny Of Small Decisions. I’ll provide a pointer to the wiki for that topic for folks wanting an introduction. (And since, in a stellar example of the failure of the commons, the Wiki tends to get re-written when a conservative point of view references it, I’ll quote the whole article below as documentation of what it WAS prior to The Tragedy, should that happen yet again… It’s only happened about 60% of the time in the bits I’ve audited. Then again, that isn’t a strongly AGW related article.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyranny_of_small_decisions

The basic idea is that a series of small decisions, each one rational, can lead to poor or even very bad outcomes. I’ve seen this happen quite often, and it’s a fairly well attested effect.

So what does this have to do with Global Warming?

I suspect that it explains how we ended up with the current global panic over nothing.

The process of “Climate Science” (and perhaps all science as presently practiced) is subject to The Tyranny Of Small Decisions. That is the thesis of this posting.

Examples

In particular, I think there are three clear examples. Ideas that are now excepted as central to creating our “Global Average Temperature” but are in fact Small Tyrannies that have lead researchers astray.

1) “Climate” defined as a “30 Year Average of Weather”

2) The Reference Station Method

3) Grid / Box Anomalies

All three are part of the “Peer Reviewed Literature”, so become authoritarian and thus subject to tyrannical use. Each has a significant flaw or limitation that is ignored in their application (and thus lead to the erroneous conclusion that the world is warming, when it’s really cycling in hundreds of years or less time scales in a general very long term (thousands of years) downtrend, or cooling trend). So we confound cyclical behaviours with trend.

We will look at each one in turn, and how I think they act as a Tyranny of Small Decisions.

Climate

Koppen-Geiger Climate Map

Koppen-Geiger Climate Map

In “Climate Science”, they define climate in terms of a 30 year period. Yet we know this is not truth. It is a choice of ‘convenience’. In prior times (and other fields) climate was defined in terms of precipitation, terrain, latitude, altitude. That is how Geology has treated climate. Things that do not change very fast, and that produce highly persistent patterns of what lives in a place and what the geography looks like.

The Sahara has been a “Desert Climate” for thousands of years. The Mediterranean has been a “Mediterranean Climate” for similar thousands of years. During the Little Ice Age as well as during the Roman Optimum. These things do not change on decade time scales. But weather does. We know of 60 year cycles of weather, for example. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation. And these show a ‘warming” from 1950 to 1998, but one that is simply not important to climate. It IS important to weather, but will once again turn down to a cooling trend of ’30 year average weather’ as the PDO turns.

PDO Monthly Values

PDO Monthly Values

Original Image from: http://jisao.washington.edu/pdo/img/pdo_latest.png

(Notice the recent cold turn…)

By accepting the small lie that “30 year average of weather” is “climate” we accept one of the first Small Tyrannies and head down the path to the Tyranny Of Small Decisions. If “30 year average weather” is just weather, not climate, then all of “Climate Science” as practiced today falls apart. Weather is known to be chaotic and subject to non-linear divergences with time and is not subject to accurate long term modeling. Weather is known to have long term cyclical patterns that are beyond the available data (in terms of sample time and area, we violate Nyqist Sampling requirements).

Basically, if you define climate as needing a 1000 year time base to see it without cycles interfering, then you admit that we have not got the instrumental data record to know anything about it. (And we know of at least one 1470 year cycle. Bond Events.)

The Reference Station Method

This says that you can compare two stations at one point in time and find how they relate to each other, then use that to recreate missing data in other time periods. This is from a peer reviewed paper, so is accepted as simply true. But the paper applies to a limited scope of time and space. It does NOT cover the entire length of time of known weather cycles. So, for example, the tendency for stations more inland or more at altitude to change their relationship to those at a sea coast as the PDO cycle changes is not recognized nor ‘corrected’. And the tendency for, say, a grass field in 1950 to have a different relationship today (now that it’s a square mile of tarmac at an International Airport) is also ignored.

The “peer reviewed” Reference Station Method is accepted as valid for all times, all places, and all conditions. While the paper itself was for a short time in a small space and specific conditions. This “small decision” has an error term, but the error term is assumed to not exist. RSM is applied to any stations at any time up to 1200 km away from each other with no allowance for the impact of PDO cycles (or other cycles) nor land use changes nor equipment changes nor process changes nor even any proof that you can apply it recursively (first to individual stations, then to UHI ‘corrections’ and ‘homogenizing’ and then to ‘grid / boxes’) without accumulating excessive errors.

Grid / Box Anomalies

There is a frequently heard refrain that by using ‘anomalies’ we can average temperatures. Clearly if you have a place that’s 10 degrees and another that is 20 degrees, putting more thermometers in one of them than you put in the other will change the average. But if you only look at the “change of temperature over time” of the thermometers, you could average that together without caring about ‘how many’.

That change over time is called ‘the anomaly’ of the thermometer.

So put 2 in the 10 degree place and one in the 20 degree place, you would get an average of 10+10+20 = 40 then divide by 3 is 13.33 degrees. Move one to the 20 degree place and you get 10+20+20 = 50 then divide by 3 is 16.66 degrees. That 3.33 degree difference is entirely an artifact of changing the location of the thermometers, not a real change of temperatures.

(I’ve taken flack from folks complaining that I’ve averaged temperatures instead of doing anomalies when they have not understood that I was doing it to ‘characterize the data’. That is, to see how much the averages are impacted by such things as instrument change. For small places, like an island or two, you can directly average temperatures for well stabilized instruments, and I’ve done that too. It’s a convenient way to see the impact of adding or removing one particular instrument. Just don’t think it says anything about climate… It’s to tell you the size of the data problem. The “error” is to think that non ‘self to self’ anomaly processing fixes instrument change issues and splice issues.)

The idea is that if you just look at the change of each thermometer over time, you can ignore the change of location issue. So if we assume that each thermometer warmed by 1 degree, our two calculations would be:

10 to 11 is +1 while 20 to 21 is +1. 1+1+1 / 3 = 1
for the other case, with 2 thermometers in the 20 degree place, we still have:
1+1+1 / 3 = 1

Hey! It works!

(No real surprise there… I’ve taken a lot of flack from folks who seem to think I don’t know this. What they “don’t get” is that my concern comes out of the next issue, not this trivial case…)

But is that what “climate science” does?

Nope.

That example is what I call a ‘self to self’ anomaly. Each thermometer is compared only to itself.

The problem comes in when you don’t have a thermometer compared to itself, but rather compared to some other thermometer. That isn’t really an ‘anomaly’ in the pure sense. It has more in common with our ‘move the thermometer’ problem. It’s a kind of splice of different things.

The “fix” is supposed to be The Reference Station Method. The idea is that a station can be ‘adjusted’ by comparing it’s past history to another station, then filling in the missing data. So we would say that we can compare our 10 degree station with our 20 degree station and say “gee, they both move by 1 F at the same time”. All well and good. And accepted as peer reviewed. But this is where it goes off the rails.

It’s accepted and peer reviewed based on a small sample in time and space, and done only one time in a row. One station to another in one small span of time.

What if the relationship is 1:1 in the negative phase of the PDO and 1:2 in the positive phase? Then that “30 year average” used as the baseline in codes like GIStemp starts to be a major error source.

Then in the temperature codes, like GIStemp, The Reference Station Method (RSM) is applied several times in a row. Has THAT ever been peer reviewed? It is applied to stations all over the planet. Was THAT ever peer reviewed? (Or only the small sample of data that was in the original paper?) It is applied over a century of data, with different thermometers in different places and using different technology in the collection and ‘adjustment’ of the data. Not exactly what was done in the original work. So we take this RSM and think that somehow it will be just fine for filling in data in any time and place (with no regard for PDO and similar cycles and with no regard that the ‘volatility’ of a station might change over time – so things like adding asphalt vs a grass field at an airport is assumed to have no impact on the ‘reference’).

OK, that’s part of the issue. That creates the error term. But then we think that by making a ‘basket’ of these data in one period of time and comparing it to a different basket of data from different thermometers in a different period of time to create an ‘anomaly’ for that location will fix it; the fact that we are averaging these thermometers (and non-thermometer RSM fabricated data items) in a particular place on the planet is somehow not comparing different things. That it’s just like a ‘self to self’ anomaly.

But it isn’t.

The reality is that we are really making a ‘data splice’ but hiding it via the Reference Station Method and ‘grid / box anomalies’. We think that somehow by making an average of 2 Volkswagons in 1950 and 2 Mercedes today then comparing the two baskets, it’s a valid result. That cars are going up in size over time. But even if we compared a 1950 VW to a 1950 Mercedes and applied THAT correction factor to our 2010 Mercedes, we would still have an error term. The two have not changed at exactly the same pace. And making a “car / box anomaly” out of the two sets of data will NOT remove that error term.

But “climate science” has accepted the notion that a “grid / box anomaly” is just as good as a ‘self to self’ anomaly, when it isn’t. And it has accepted that the RSM can be applied in all times and spaces and recursively, even when not proven.

So by accepting THAT ‘small decision’ we accept invalid data splicing as valid.

Think A Minute

But even modest time spent thinking about it and you realize that a Liquid In Glass thermometer in a Stevenson Screen on the grass field of your local airport in 1920 will NOT be recording the same thing as an ASOS station surrounded by a square mile of tarmac today. And averaging 3 of them in a “grid box” in the past and comparing them to 2 different ones in that “grid box” today is just not going to remove that error term. Further, if those first 3 were near the lake, and the 2 today are away from the lake at the airport, the change in ‘volatility’ (called ‘moderation’ when it comes to water effects) will also not be removed by averaging them together into a ‘grid box’.

That some paper was accepted for publication in one narrow context lets the idea be used in all cases even those well beyond the scope of the paper. A ‘small decision’ that then justified accepting splices of very different thermometers in very different places over very long times. We are then supposed to accept this uncritically.

The simple fact is that the only real ‘anomaly’ is comparing a thermometer to itself. An ‘anomaly’ made by comparing one box of thermometer in one set of micro-locations in one period of time to a different box of different thermometers in a different set of micro-locations in a different period of time is properly called “a splice”. And no matter how carefully done, it’s still just a splice and subject to all the failures of spliced data.

But “climate science” accepts this ‘small decision’ and thus accepts the “Tyranny Of Small Decisions” that it then generates. Belief in a False Precision and belief that a splice is error-free.

But Wait, There’s More!

All throughout the debate there is talk of the Global Average Temperature. But at it’s core, that very concept is broken. An average of temperatures is a bogus concept.

This has to do with the difference between intensive and extensive properties. Heat can be averaged, but temperature can not. (Heat is the product of temperature AND mass AND specific heat. If you are missing one of those, you don’t have all the information you need to reach a conclusion. Mix two pots of water, one at 10 degrees and the other at 40 degrees. What is the resulting temperature? You can’t know unless you get the mass of water in each pot. Was that 10 F or C? If it was in F, then you have the problem of the Heat of Fusion of the ice as you melt it…)

Yet we are expected to accept uncritically the “small decision” to use temperature increase as a proxy for heat gain; when it isn’t.

Mix that with the broken way we do ‘grid / box anomalies’ and use RSM out of all reasonable context and suddenly it makes sense why codes like GIStemp find consistent temperature rises (with the presumption of heat gain) yet long lived stations tend to show no net temperature rise, no trend of heat gain.

In Conclusion

So my basic thesis in this posting is simple:

Each of those decisions can be defended to the point where the case can be made that it’s a “small decision” to accept that tiny bit of error and tiny bit of imprecision. To accept that it isn’t quite right, but not completely wrong, so just forget about it. But that then leads to conclusions that are completely wrong and totally out of touch with reality at a policy level.

This sort of “Post Modern Science” is fatally prone to The Tyranny of Small Decisions (especially when they are hidden deep in inscrutable computer codes and programs, and defended with the arcane rules of Peer Review – especially with suborned peers and ‘pal review’ as Climategate illustrated.) and the policy results of following such a chain of Small Decisions would be one very Large Disaster.

And thus we end up at The Tragedy of Small Tyrannies and the need to throw off tyrants, even the small and petty ones…

Preserving The Wiki

As much as I like the NOTION of a commons encyclopedia and use the content when possible, it’s just not a stable platform to use in links as a reference. Politically driven zealots re-write it when a reference does not suit their agenda so I’ve learned that I need to preserve it as it was if I point to an article. Sigh… To that end, here’s the wiki text as of now:

Tyranny of small decisions
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The tyranny of small decisions refers to a phenomenon explored in an essay by that name, published in 1966 by the American economist Alfred E. Kahn.[1] The article describes a situation where a number of decisions, individually small in size and time perspective, cumulatively result in an outcome which is not optimal or desired. It is a situation where a series of small, individually rational decisions can negatively change the context of subsequent choices, even to the point where desired alternatives are irreversibly destroyed. Kahn described the problem as a common issue in market economics which can lead to market failure.[1] The concept has since been extended to areas other than economic ones, such as environmental degradation,[2] political elections[3] and health outcomes.[4]

A classic example of the tyranny of small decisions is the tragedy of the commons, described by Garrett Hardin in 1968[5] as a situation where a number of herders graze cows on a commons. The herders each act independently in what they perceive to be their own rational self-interest, ultimately depleting their shared limited resource, even though it is clear that it is not in any herder’s long-term interest for this to happen.[6]

Contents

* 1 The Ithaca railroad
* 2 History of the idea
* 3 Environmental degradation
* 4 Counters
* 5 See also
* 6 Notes
* 7 References

The Ithaca railroad
Abutment of the Ithaca-Auburn Short Line bridge

The event that first suggested the tyranny of small decisions to Kahn was the withdrawal of passenger railway services in Ithaca, New York. The railway was the only reliable way to get in and out of Ithaca. It provided services regardless of conditions, in fair weather and foul, during peak seasons and off-peak seasons. The local airline and bus company skimmed the traffic when conditions were favourable, leaving the trains to fill in when conditions were difficult. The railway service was eventually withdrawn, because the collective individual decisions made by travellers did not provide the railway with the revenue it needed to cover its incremental costs. According to Kahn, this suggests a hypothetical economic test of whether the service should have been withdrawn.

Suppose each person in the cities served were to ask himself how much he would have been willing to pledge regularly over some time period, say annually, by purchase of prepaid tickets, to keep rail passenger service available to his community. As long as the amount that he would have declared (to himself) would have exceeded what he actually paid on the period–and my own introspective experiment shows that it would–then to that extent the disappearance of the passenger service was an incident of market failure.[7]

The failure to reflect the full value to passengers of keeping the railroad service available had its origins in the discrepancy between the time perception within which the travellers were operating, and the time perception within which the railroad was operating. The travellers were making many short term decisions, deciding each particular trip whether to go by the railroad, or whether to go instead by car, bus or the local airline. Based on the cumulative effects of these small decisions, the railroad was making one major long run decision, “virtually all-or-nothing and once-and-for-all”; whether to retain or abandon its passenger service. Taken one at a time, each small travel decision made individually by the travellers had a negligible impact on the survivability of the railroad. It would not have been rational for a traveller to consider the survival of the railroad imperilled by any one of his particular decisions.[7]

The fact remains that each selection of x over y constitutes also a vote for eliminating the possibility thereafter of choosing y. If enough people vote for x, each time necessarily on the assumption that y will continue to be available, y may in fact disappear. And its disappearance may constitute a genuine deprivation, which customers might willingly have paid something to avoid. The only choice the market offered travellers to influence the longer-run decision of the railroad was thus shorter in its time perspective, and the sum total of our individual purchases of railroad tickets necessary added up to a smaller amount, than our actual combined interest in the continued availability of rail service. We were victims of the “tyranny of small decisions”.[7]

History of the idea

Thucydides (ca. 460 B.C.-ca. 395 B.C.) stated:

[T]hey devote a very small fraction of time to the consideration of any public object, most of it to the prosecution of their own objects. Meanwhile each fancies that no harm will come to his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look after this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays.[8]

Aristotle (384 B.C.-322 B.C.) similarly argued against common goods of the polis of Athens:

For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few.[9]

Thomas Mun (1571–1641), an English mercantilist, commented about decisions made with a myopic, small time perspective:

[T]hey search no further than the beginning of the work, which mis-informs their judgements, and leads them into error: For if we only behold the actions of the husbandman in the seed-time when he casteth away much good corn into the ground, we will rather account him a mad-man than a husbandman: but when we consider his labours in the harvest which is the end of his endeavours, we find the worth and plentiful increase of his actions.[10]

Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk (1851–1914), an Austrian economist, observed that decisions made with small time perspectives can have a seductive quality:

It occurs frequently, I believe, that a person is faced with a choice between a present and a future satisfaction or dissatisfaction and that he decides in favor of lesser present pleasure even though he knows perfectly well, and is even explicitly aware at the moment he makes his choice, that the future disadvantage is the greater and that therefore his well-being, on the whole, suffers by reason of his choice. The “playboy” squanders his whole month’s allowance in the first few days on frivolous dissipation. How clearly he anticipates his later embarrassment and deprivation! And yet he is unable to resist the temptations of the moment.[11]

Environmental degradation
As a result of many small decisions, and without the issue being directly addressed, nearly half the marshlands were destroyed along the coasts of Connecticut and Massachusetts

In 1982, the estuarine ecologist, William Odum, published a paper where he extended the notion of the tyranny of small decisions to environmental issues. According to Odum, “much of the current confusion and distress surrounding environmental issues can be traced to decisions that were never consciously made, but simply resulted from a series of small decisions.”[2]

Odum cites, as an example, the marshlands along the coasts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Between 1950 and 1970, almost 50 percent of these marshlands were destroyed. This was not purposely planned, and the public may well have supported preservation had they been asked. Instead, hundreds of small tracts of marshland were converted to other purposes through hundreds of small decisions, resulting in a major outcome without the overall issue ever being directly addressed.[2]

Another example is the Florida Everglades. These have been threatened, not by a single unfavorable decision, but by many independent pin prick decisions, such as decisions to add this well, that drainage canal, one more retirement village, another roadway… No explicit decision was made to restrict the flow of surface water into the glades, or to encourage hot, destructive fires and intensify droughts, yet this has been the outcome.[2]

With few exceptions, threatened and endangered species owe their predicament to series of small decisions. Polar bears, humpback whales and bald eagles have suffered from the cumulative effects of single decisions to overexploit or convert habitats. The removal, one by one, of green turtle nesting beaches for other uses parallels the decline in green turtle populations.[2]

Cultural lake eutrophication is rarely the result of an intentional decision. Instead, lakes eutrophy gradually as a cumulative effect of small decisions; the addition of this domestic sewage outfall and then that industrial outfall, with a runoff that increases steadily as this housing development is added, then that highway and some more agricultural fields.[2] The insidious effects of small decisions marches on; productive land turns to desert, groundwater resources are overexploited to the point where they can’t recover, persistent pesticides are used and tropical forests are cleared without factoring in the cumulative consequences.[2]
[edit] Counters

Considering all of the pressures and short-term rewards that guide society toward simple solutions, it seems safe to assume that the “tyranny of small decisions” will be an integral part of environmental policy for a long time to come. – William Odum[2]

An obvious counter to the tyranny of small decisions is to develop and protect appropriate upper levels of decision making. Depending on the issue, decision making may be appropriate at a local, state, country or global level. However, organisations at these levels can entangle themselves in their own bureaucracy and politics, assigning decisions by default back to the lower levels. Political and scientific systems can encourage small decisions by rewarding specific problems and solutions. It is usually easier and more politic to make decision on individual tracts of land or single issues rather than implementing large scale policies. The same pattern applies with academic science. Most scientists are more comfortable working on specific problems rather than systems. This reductionist tendency towards the small problems is reinforced in the way grant monies and academic tenure are assigned.[2]

Odum advocates that at least some scientists should study systems so the negative consequences that result when many small decisions are made from a limited perspective can be avoided. There is a similar need for politicians and planners to understand large scale perspectives. Environmental science teachers should include large scale processes in their courses, with examples of the problems that decision making at inappropriate levels can introduce.[2]

See also

* Diner’s dilemma
* Free rider problem
* Overexploitation
* Race to the bottom
* Social dilemma
* Social trap
* The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
* Tragedy of the commons

Notes

1. ^ a b Kahn, Alfred E. (1966) “The tyranny of small decisions: market failures, imperfections, and the limits of economics” Kvklos, 19:23-47.
2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Odum WE (1982) “Environmental degradation and the tyranny of small decisions” BioScience, 32(9):728-729.
3. ^ Burnell, P (2002) “Zambia’s 2001 Elections: the Tyranny of Small Decisions, Non-decisions and ‘Not Decisions'” Third World Quarterly, 23(3): 1103-1120.
4. ^ *Bickel WK and Marsch LA (2000) “The Tyranny of Small Decisions: Origins, Outcomes, and Proposed Solutions” Chapter 13 in Bickel WK and Vuchinich RE (2000) Reframing health behavior change with behavioral economics, Routledge. ISBN 9780805827330.
5. ^ Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons”, Science, Vol. 162, No. 3859 (December 13, 1968), pp. 1243-1248. Also available here and here.
6. ^ Baylis J, Wirtz JJ, Cohen EA and Gray CS (2007) Strategy in the contemporary world: an introduction to strategic studies Page 368. Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199289783
7. ^ a b c Kahn AE (1988) The economics of regulation: principles and institutions Volume 1, pp 237–238. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262610520
8. ^ Thucydides (ca. 460 B.C.-ca. 395 B.C.), History of the Peloponnesian War, Book I, Sec. 141; translated by Richard Crawley (London: J. M. Dent & Sons; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1910).
9. ^ Aristotle (384 B.C.-322 B.C.), Politics, Book II, Chapter III, 1261b; translated by Benjamin Jowett as The Politics of Aristotle: Translated into English with Introduction, Marginal Analysis, Essays, Notes and Indices (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1885), Vol. 1 of 2. See also here, here, here or here.
10. ^ Mun T (1664) On obtaining a positive balance of trade by importing raw materials Chapter in England’s treasure by forraign trade.
11. ^ Capital and Interest by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk London: Macmillan and Co. 1890, trans. William A. Smart, 1890. Library of Economics and Liberty (Econlib)

References

* Haraldsson HV, Sverdrup HU, Belyazid S, Holmqvist J and Gramstad RCJ (2008) “The Tyranny of Small Steps: a reoccurring behaviour in management” Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Jan-Feb, by

v • d • e
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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW Science and Background, World Economics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Small Tyrants, Large Tyrannies

  1. gnomish says:

    that was great fun to read!

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    @Gnomish: Glad you liked it.

    The show was something like “This Land Is Our Land”. Not really all THAT bad, but clearly biased (as is just about everything on LINK). But it was a show about economics theory (even if presented more as political propaganda) and that always gets me thinking.

    The basic thesis being that The Commons is really the right and natural way things ought to be and that private property is the Bad Thing… and corporate private property the worst.

    But it does make a couple of good points (for example, the tendency of capitalism to indulge in the enclosure of the commons whenever possible, to the detriment of the people in many cases. I *am* in favor of The Commons for many things) but it was the clearly biased point of view that irritated. So as much as I absolutely HATE the ‘enclosure of the commons’ represented by Toll Roads and think it nearly criminal that states are willing to sell off public roads for state corporate gain; I also find it unacceptable to assert that there are no problems with running The Commons.

    But in pondering all that, I got to thinking about the Tyranny Of Small Decisions (like a State deciding to sell one lane of a freeway, then another, then another…) and how that seemed to fit the way that Science is done. One small slice of salami at a time, until a bad overall conclusion is reached.

    The way that each researcher publishes just one hyper narrow point; then all other researchers are obligated to accept it for all contexts or go to a great deal of effort to get published against it. The natural trend would be to just accept it and try to add another slice… with predictable modes of failure.

    Fun stuff to think about.

    Yeah, I do strange things for “fun”…

  3. Malaga View says:

    I still have a world atlas from my school days… published in 1961… and it has been a mental comfort blanket for me during the last couple of years… it takes me back to an age when a Mediterranean Climate Zone was simply defined as having hot, dry summers and warm, wet winters. The atlas contains a some lovely old fashioned concepts like the Northern Limit of Olives and the Northern Limit of Palms… they are clearly shown as dotted lines on some of the maps… wonderful stuff… and wonderful check points for assessing climate change.

    Alas, I have not found a modern day assessment of these old artefacts on the web… and I wonder whether this is just another facet of the Tyranny Of Small Decisions… where inconvenient facts are forgotten… where inconvenient facts are obscured or hidden. This seems to be the art of climate science at the moment… and many other academic areas of study like economics, physics and medicine that like to think of themselves as scientific.

    The Tyranny Of Small Decisions seems to have some interesting consequences in science because it sidetracks the advance of knowledge into an evolutionary dead end of failed science. The failed science where reality is always confounding the theory. The failed science where the observations are changed to fit the theory. The failed science that advances in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up its own fundament.

    Perhaps The Law Of Unintended Consequences is a corollary to The Tyranny Of Small Decisions. This seems to be the case with AGW… where they argue we have to reduce CO2 emissions if we wish to save our western lifestyle… while the reality is that reducing CO2 emissions will destroy the economic engine that generates our western lifestyle. This seems to be the case with Quantative Easing… where they argue we have to borrow more to avoid economic collapse… while the reality is that the economic collapse was caused by borrowing too much. This seems to be the case with flu shots… we are told to get a flu shot so we can avoid getting the flu… while the reality is that the flu shots ensure that there are more cases of illness. This seems to be the case with HIV… where we are told we will die if we don’t have treatment… while the reality is that the treatment will probably kill you.

    Now I don’t expect everyone to agree with those examples above… and I am not sure whether I do totally… but the thing that fascinates me is at what point does The Tyranny Of Small Decisions collapse or implode… for example: will the reality of a cooling climate cycle be enough to explode the myth of Global Warming.

  4. Jason Calley says:

    What an interesting post. E.M., you continue to impress me.

    The defining mark of any tyranny is that the tyrant — either big or small — is able to act without paying for the natural consequences of his action.

    The primary reason why Socialism fails (even with sincere and rational leaders) is that the process of top-down economic ordering destroys the natural market function of pricing, the function of balancing act (production) and consequence (price).

    In the case of tyranny of small decisions, we see dissociation of act and consequence because of factors of scale. The act is very personal and obvious; I draw water from a well on my property and water my garden. The consequence is diffused over a larger scale and area; the water table is lowered by a millimeter, and not just on my property but over all the property for miles around. Because the cost of my water is diffused so greatly, no one even notices that one small bite. Of course bites add up. Just as in the broken window paradox of economics, we see the obvious gain, but do not see the invisible cost.

    While we (you, your readers, and I) would certainly prefer to see the tyranny of small decisions ended, the only way to do so is to make individuals responsible for the consequences of their actions — even actions which have diffused consequences. I do not see a good way to do that; I am open to suggestions!

    At present there is an institution that specializes in using this mechanism of visible-gain-invisible-cost. Watch each spring as people who have uncomplainingly paid thousands of dollars to the IRS rejoice when they see a refund check for $200.

  5. ArndB says:

    Your reasoning, E.M.Smith, is great reading, but IMO the problem is that science is unable to define: weather and climate, and as you mention that in prior times (and other fields) climate was defined in terms of precipitation, terrain, latitude, altitude. If it is said that climate is “average weather”, it is a precondition to say what is “weather” in the first place. The AMS-Glossary may serve as a good example of what is wrong in this respect. After saying that weather is: “The state of the atmosphere, mainly with respect to its effects upon life and human activities”, the weather issue is broken down to:
    ___The “present weather” table consists of 100 possible conditions,
    ___with 10 possibilities for “past weather”, while
    ____Popularly, weather is thought of in terms of temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, visibility, and wind.
    ___and is silent on “future weather”. (in detail at: http://www.whatisclimate.com/ )
    The nonsense of “average weather” becomes a face, and it does not matter if a time span between several months or million of years is taken. “Climate” science is using layman’s expression, which are merely ‘images’ in our daily life, based on individual and professional observation. The terms weather and climate reflects in no way the physical dynamic that govern the ocean and atmospheric processes. Instead of ensuring minimum academic requirements, namely a clear language and definitions, it is so inviting to keep the matter discussed vague to the point of nonsense. At least it was extreme successful over the last three decades.
    A-Bernaerts

  6. wa777 says:

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    Your post is the first I have seen that questions the meaning of “Climate Change” where:
    * The common definition of “Climate” is a 30-year average of “Weather”.
    * The “Weather” cycles in about 60-year PDO oscillations (ignoring Bond Events).
    * The claim of “Global Warming” is the upside 1/2 cycle.

    Under these circumstances, just what is “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change”? Scientifically, that is. My working definition is “A ploy to scare people into granting fame, riches and power to those who would be “Rulers-Of-The-World”.

    I have been following ICECAP (D’Aleo) and Climate Observations (Tisdale), among others, to see if anyone has raised this issue. You are the first.

  7. Michael Larkin says:

    I came over here because Judith Curry said in her blog she thought it “definitely worth reading”.

    She wasn’t wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt quite a lot from it.

    Thank you.

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @Michael Larkin: Glad you (and Judith Curry) liked it. FWIW, in another thread a great article by Verity Jones informed me that the NAO is also in a cold phase. I’ll need to look up a graph for it, too.

    http://diggingintheclay.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/snow-in-uk-scandinavia-freezes-but-mild-winter-is-forecast/

  9. Michael Larkin says:

    Okay – I’ll take a look at that too. BTW, have you thought of contributing to Judith’s thread on making your best case against AGW? I think you are very articulate and am sure I would enjoy and appreciate any contribution you might be inclined to make.

    Just a thought.

    http://judithcurry.com/2010/11/26/skeptics-make-your-best-case/#more-1212

  10. boballab says:

    EM

    Here is a link to NOAA that explains the NAO:

    http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/data/teledoc/nao.shtml

    Here is a link to the NOAA data:
    ftp://ftp.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/wd52dg/data/indices/tele_index.nh

    And a link to as series of thumbnail graphs:

  11. Laurence M. Sheehan, PE says:

    Great article, EM, and I see that you read the same sort of writings that I have read in my spare time. What is being done in the way of “climate studies” is quite ghastly for an engineer such as myself to read. Not the slightest concept of margin of error, and apparently using another strange notion that “errors will average out.”

  12. John Andrews says:

    Thanks. A good read.

    John Andrews

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    @Michael Larkin: I’ll take a look, but things are a bit hectic during the holidays.

    @boballab: Thanks for the pointers!

    @ John Andrews: Glad you like it. It was a one of those idea storms that hits some times and you can’t stop it, just roll with it.

    @Laurence M Sheehan PE: I’m an Economist by degree, but took a lot of Engineering classes and came out well schooled in computers, then proceeded to spend most of my professional life doing computer programming, consulting, and management with technical companies (and ran a supercomputer center in the Engineering Advanced Technology Group of Apple Computer for a few years.) The bottom line is that I’m an engineer by attitude and style, but worked in R&D most of the time… Yeah, an odd mix. But my attitudes run to the ones that drive engineering solutions. You just can’t go making stuff up. It has to pass “QA”. Things must have error bands and things must function right or you can’t ship it. There are real standards of care and real standards of design that you must follow. Etc. I ran the QA group for a compiler tool chain through 3 product release cycles. What they do in the climate codes just makes my skin crawl from a professional software quality control perspective.

    And yes, I like reading technical journals ;-) and encyclopedias…

  14. Baa Humbug says:

    Like Michael Larkin I came here from J Currys blog.
    What a fantastic read that was. I must read it again as there is a lot to digest (for me anyway).

    Thankyou Mr Smith

    p.s. Re: Tyranny of small decisions and the tradgedy of the commons, I think we are experiencing this in politics here in Australia.
    Many people who wish to send a message to the two main parties (one of which has always been in power) cast a vote for an independent or the Greens. Possibly/probably thinking their single vote won’t matter to the end result. (I’ve done this myself in the past) However enough people have done this in recent elections, the result of which is that some indies and Greens now have disproportionate power in policy making decisions.

  15. Verity Jones says:

    I finally got the time to read this. Very lucid. As ever you have a real way with words Mr Smith ;-)

  16. Adrian Camp says:

    So, that Koeppen-Geiger map. Has anyone done a time series on it? Seems to me that if climate were changing, we would of necessity see movements of the borders between zones on that map. Indeed those changes would represent the actual threat/benefit changes that we would have to deal with or live with in the event of actual climate change. Same climate zone but a degree or two warmer or colder makes no more difference to me than a good year vs a bad year, or between living here or at the top of the hill three miles away, or in the town five miles over there.

    So can anyone demonstrate a change? Or plot a real trend in important things like frost days, plant cycles or long-term precipitation. I am not impressed with this global temperature thingy, which is meaningless in practical terms. In the NH could boil (well, get hot) and the SH freeze while the ‘anomaly’ was constant.

  17. j ferguson says:

    E.M.
    This is one of your finest posts, particularly the identifications of erroneous assumptions vis a vis “climate science.”

    I am, however, very suspicious of the “tyranny of small decisions.” The concept strikes me as a belaboring of the obvious without special insight. Not your’s, mind you, but in the references you cite.

    I don’t know what would make me want to take on Alfred Kahn, and the others, but if you re-characterized the “small decision” as a decision made in ignorance of all of it’s consequences, don’t you get the same exposure as a decision made with “unintended consequences.”

    But it’s not a single small decision that brings the tipping point. It’s the multitude of parallel small decisions.

    We’re not discussing the single butterfly taking two instead of one flap deep in the forest, but similar decisions made by many. I submit that small decisions made in parallel are not the same as a single small decision. And it is this parallelism that strips this concept of any real utility. Take that Aristotle!

    Failing evil intent, (and is there really ever evil intent?), does recognizing the possibility of tyranny in a small decision make it more likely that the ill effect will be identified? I doubt it.

    It’s easier to look back on a decision or a family of parallel decisions and say that things would be different had this not been done.

    It seems so much like my mother asking me, “John, what if everyone did what you just did?”

    “Maybe they will, but likely they won’t.”

    What we get out of this is a moral imperative to be inconspicuous, perhaps ineffectual.

    I find this an impossible and likely useless assignment.

    But maybe I’ve missed the whole point of the thing.

  18. j ferguson says:

    E.M.
    Tautology was the word I wanted to apply above, but couldn’t remember.

    The hazard which the “tyranny of small decisions” at first seems to address is actually the failing to adequately examine the assumptions underpinning the “science.”

    It’s the parallel acceptance of these dubious, unproven, assumptions which is causing us all this trouble.

  19. Perhaps there is a link between the end of the Cold War, the start of the AGW campaign, and the collapse of the world economic system.

    Perhaps world leaders and leaders of the scientific community felt that they had noble motives for violating basic scientific principles for a greater good.

    In order to eliminate national boundaries and the threat of mutual nuclear destruction after the Cold War ended (When stockpiles of nuclear weapons could kill every person in the “Free West” and in the “Communist East” many times over), perhaps world leaders felt that this was their opportunity to request help from leaders of the scientific community:

    a.) To block other countries from getting nuclear weapons;
    b.) To identify a common enemy (AGW) of all nations; and
    c.) To simultaneously level the standard of living worldwide.

    I would appreciate comments from others on the possibility of this hidden motive. Although I oppose government deception, I do not necessarily oppose the above goals if done “with the consent of the governed”.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    @Adrian Camp: I think there are some various versions over time, but I’ve not seen any visible differences from casual observation. But yes, your point is highly valid. There are micro-climates on mountain tops that have common cold adapted species that are not able to mix (due to hot valleys between).

    They attest to the fact that a hundred thousand years ago they could mix in the (then cold) valleys below.

    So all of the climate change to date coming out of the Really Big Ice Age Glacial has consisted of moving their range higher up the hillls.

    So one simple ‘thought experiment’ would be to take the known lapse rate with altitude and figure out how much altitude is represented by 1/2 C of hotter. That’s how much higher the alpine / arboreal would move compared to the tropical jungle in the bottom…

    Lapse rate varies with a lot of things, but you can use 6.5 C per kilometer in lower altitudes. So that would be 0.65 C per 100 meters.

    OK, go out and look at a hill. ANY hill anywhere will do.

    The impact of a 1/2 C of “Global Warming” will be to move the tree line 100 meters (or about one football field) up the hill. It will also move the tropical line 100 meters further up. Etc.

    At the very bottom, it will get a little warmer. Everything else just moves a tiny up slope.

    BTW, the folks who publish the planting zone charts came out with a new one with zones displaced northward a bit. The problem? The change was based on EXPECTATIONS about what would happen from climate change (i.e. the models), not actual measured changes in freeze lines. Oh, and it uses a time base shorter than 60 years, so will slowly wander back and forth with the PDO / AMO / AO etc.

    Yet another “Tragedy Of Small Tyrannies”

    @J. Ferguson: Glad you liked it.

    Per your complaint about the “Tyranny of Small Decisions”:

    I have to say that Economics is filled to the brim with folks stating the obvious in slightly more interesting forms. Then they often get a Nobel Prize for it…

    So, for example, the prize for basically saying “The Tragedy Of The Commons only happens where there is no government in control (be it a national government, a King, or even an owner). But then makes a leap that says “but self organized managing groups are not a government” so there is no Tragedy Of The Commons that must happen. OK, I didn’t stress the point above, but this kind of ‘swap the definition a little and publsih’ is very very common. Got a Politically Correct Nobel Prize for saying that commune-ism can work fine if you have a Ruling Commission…

    What’s this have to do with your complaint? Well, you are correct that it’s not really different, but the marketing package on The Tyranny Of Small Decisions is better and they have a minor “twist” of the idea that a small decision might be inside the quantum field size of the decision particle such that you can’t see the hidden error (or the error only shows up when combined with other small ideas into a nucleus of a larger decision).

    Find a similar small twist on a similar small point and you too could be on deck for a Nobel (provided you can make the political hurdles… )

    OK, back at The Tyranny Of Small Decisions: It is real. (Oh, and there ARE some truly evil folks who make decisions from an evil motive. I’ve met some of them…) One of the best examples, IMHO, is the urban planning process. Everyone can get a permit to add on a small bit to their home. No ONE decision is bad, but the result is an overbuilt neighborhood with traffic congestion et.al. One person or two with a ‘variance’ for a 2nd floor, then become a ‘precedent’ for future 2nd floors. Repeat until you have an urban jungle.

    I’ve seen this in person in my town. A ‘nearby’ 2 story apartment group justified a 3 story group. A ‘nearby’ 50 foot office block justifies even more. Eventually it’s a mess. Every single decision was “fair” and “according to the rules”, but the net impact was not what anyone collectively wanted.

    FWIW, I fell prey to this effect in choosing a vehicle once. We carefully charted all the issues. Passenger count. Desire to go camping. Haul stuff. etc. THE highest rank vehicle was a 1 Ton 4 x 4 Crew Cab pickup truck. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the truck. But it rode like a brick outhouse. We’d not put ‘ride quality’ in the matrix with sufficient weight. So you could sayh it was a simple mistake from improper weighting of a single variable… OR… you could say that by making each reasonable decision in turn we ended up with a total decision value count that was in error. A Tyranny Of Small Decisions.

    By packaging it as a TOSD it’s more clear what’s going on, even if there isn’t a whole lot of practical difference. If we’d re-weighted the ride quality, there could still be a mistake from some OTHER single factor. By recognizing the TOSD problem, we avoid another TSOD as we incrementally find all the various small decisions we might make wrong and instead just go drive the damn thing and say “It rides like a brick outhouse and gets 7 MPG. NEXT!”

    BTW, IMHO, it’s the right side of the brain that often detects the “issues” in a TOSD process and complains. Then it’s the left brain folks who get all hot and bothered as each incremental step can be clearly shown to be ‘valid’… and they don’t see the whole picture as the right brain does… But the right brain usually can’t make the linear word puzzle to tell the left brain where it’s screwed up. Sadly, our legal process (and sometimes management of companies) is largely dominated by left brain processes, so we are trapped in a lawyer driven rule based world, and often have a load of TOSD as a result.

  21. John F. Hultquist says:

    Malaga View wrote:
    I have not found a modern day assessment of these old artifacts . . .

    In the late 1960s I was working (with many others) on classification of land use and land cover using aerial photography and satellite imagery. Prior maps of such things involved field work – say, visiting an area and deciding whether the area was low density residential or forest with intermittent canopy cover and a few isolated buildings.

    The “signatures” interpreted from the imagery and the resolution were not very good. I wrote a short paper arguing that as the techniques became cost effective and efficient there would be less field work and less connection to reality. I thought that the research questions would get redefined around the technology and the “signatures” from the surface. For example, in the above paragraph, is the land cover component really different whether or not the parcel is one or the other things mentioned? For some questions, yes. For others, no. Therefore, interesting questions get sidelined while others advance because the new way of collecting data is more cost-effective than the old.

    Can either the Northern Limit of Olives or the Northern Limit of Palms be detected from a satellite image? Probably not. So maybe that is no longer a researchable question on the scale required for climate science.

  22. Jason Calley says:

    Speaking of how plant habitats drift up, down and north or south, the range of commercial orange groves in Florida has moved sharply southward in the last hundred years. In the mid to late 1800s, orange groves were common in north-eastern Florida almost to the Georgia border. You will still find towns named “Orange Park”, and “Mandarin”, but these days you will only find scattered citrus trees located in sheltered yards. The number and severity of freezes each year is now such that commercial groves are all gone. Only after a fifty or one hundred mile trip south will you find commercial citrus production.

  23. Laurence M. Sheehan, PE says:

    Regarding the temperature vs elevation of tree line/growth of plants:

    Plants also require CO2 and H2O from which to construct themselves. The higher the elevation, the lower the “input rate” of CO2 to the plant. The higher the CO2 concentration, the higher the “input rate” of CO2. Balance of H2O and CO2 is important too, regarding growth rate, as well as is the presence of animals which feed on them.

    And, there are minimum temperatures at which various plant seeds will sprout. Plants will grow at much lower temperatures than that at which their seeds will sprout.

    There is a whole lot more than temperature involved regarding the elevation at which plants grow and prosper.

    Cognizant WWII farm boy on a farm near Sioux City, IA here.

  24. Chuckles says:

    Great as always E.M., thanks for that. I think some of this sort of thing may be at play as well –

    http://www.garyjones.org/mt/archives/001770.html

  25. E.M.Smith says:

    @Oliver K Manuel

    I suspect that the economic collapse part is just “stupidity” rather than malice or grand design. The removal of Glass-Steagall was a fee asked by Republicans to endorse the Democrats CRA which mandated bad loans from the banks. A lot of the rest just follows as natural consequence. The basic stupidity was thinking you could mandate a bad banking practice and not have consequences. The compounding ones were “small decisions” that added up to a catastrophic failure (like “mark to market” that became a negative feedback force. “Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent” is known to traders, not to Academics…)

    @John F. Hultquist:

    I once decided that the best way to pick a climate you like was to decide what plant you were and look it up in the Sunset Garden Book. I used to think I was a Palm, but then decided I was more of a Citrus as I liked it a bit warmer. Lately I’ve been thinking I’m more of an Avocado, as they are not fond of even a modest frost… ;-)

    But yes, I’ve sometimes wondered to what extent the ease of measuring something or some particular way limits what we measure or where we look. Much like the measuring the temperature when we want the heat…

  26. E.M.Smith says:

    @Lawrence M. Sheehan:

    “Yes but”… In the interests of avoiding writing a whole book on farming, I was limiting myself to the simple case of the temperature impact on plants on a mountainside. Yeah, we could get into the whole ‘winter chill’ days needed by stone fruits to set fruit and all that… but the simple and direct impact is equivalent to a trivial difference in altitude or latitude…

    My ‘assumption’ is that most of the rest of the issues are already accounted for in the particular species growing in an area (at the slightly different altitudes). So for example folks growing onions already are growing varieties suited to their day length, but would temperature limit in slightly different ranges.

    @Chuckles:

    Fascinating article. Yes, I think some of that is the mechanism by which the effect happens…

  27. Jason Calley says:

    E.M. says: “Lately I’ve been thinking I’m more of an Avocado, as they are not fond of even a modest frost… ;-)”

    As an ardent avocado fan I did not think I would ever be able to have a tree of my own. I have found that there are, indeed, some cold tolerant (18 degree F) varieties:
    http://www.chestnuthilltreefarm.com/Cold-Hardy-Avocados-Winter-Mexican-53349.Item.html

    There are also some varieties suitable for potted patio growth.
    http://www.tropicalfruitnursery.com/avocado-viewer/index.htm

    I bought some of the low temp plants this summer just past, but have yet to witness for myself how well they do.

  28. E.M.Smith says:

    Somehow I end up back at food as a topic, no matter the starting point… wonder if I have a fixation ;-)

    At any rate, I’ve got a small “Bacon” avocado in the backyard,. They are supposed to be somewhat frost tolerant.

    http://www.avocado.org/avocado-variety-browser#Bacon

    From this link:

    http://www.growquest.com/Fruit%20trees%20-%20better%20plant/Avocado_trees.htm

    If you scroll down to the “cold tolerant varieties” you will find a description of the Jim Bacon that says:

    This tree will take hard frosts and grow back from a freeze damage

    A popular variety for all avocado climates. Medium-sized, green-skinned fruit has flavorful, smooth and creamy flesh. Medium-sized, attractive, upright tree is very cold hardy. Self-fertile. Fruit is produced from November through March. Named after the man who found the tree, Jim Bacon.

    Last year the frost took some of the leaves and burned the growing top bud. It’s grown back and so far has not had a frost burn (despite frost on the rooftops in the morning and the tomato vines and the chayote both keeling over) so I’m hoping…

    I grew it from seed from an avocado from a neighbor of the spouses folks. They had grown one for decades and even had the Sunset Magazine folks come over to look at it (and with much tongue clucking declared that it was not possible to grow avocados here, took a lot of pictures, and went away…)

    So I’m not sure if it was just that they didn’t know about the Bacon Avocado… or if it was just a charmed period of time as we rose out of the 1950’s – 1970’s cold plunge and they grew the thing during the warm half cycle of the PDO. But after about 35 years or so, it’s now gone. Taken out due to the neighbor no longer being ‘spry’ enough to harvest the avocados and, IMHO, the fact that the roots lifted a bit of cement on “our” side of the driveway had bothered him (even though we protested that we didn’t care about that bit of decorative cementwork and loved all the free avocados… )

    At any rate, I had a lot of avocado “pits” for a while and used to just stick some in the ground. Started a couple in pots, and set out 3 or 4 of them into the garden. Of all of them, I’ve got ONE surviving tree-let. Welcome to “Darwin’s Garden” (c) …

    So my hope is that this one tree will make it long enough to get large enough to survive our present cold turn of the PDO. It takes about 7 years for a ‘from seed’ tree to produce, and this one is only about 4 years old, so I’ve got a bit of a wait before I can get some more seeds…. (But folks who’ve followed along for a while know I don’t mind projects with a decades scale schedule ;-)

    At any rate: Yes, it’s possible to find exceptional avocados that will take a wee bit of frost and some that will even take a mild freeze. But those are not the typical ones. So for purposes of finding ‘what am I?’ using the typical is a better metric. As of right now, I’m happy with the climate where I live. If the Bacon Avocado makes it, that would pretty much establish that I’m at the very cold limit.

    This then provides a couple of very important things:

    Avocados for me ;-)

    A non-negotiable climate change standard. If it dies, we’re NOT warmer than in the past 30 years… we’re colder. If I can start getting OTHER varieties to survive, then we will have warmed (and I do plant out the pits just because I like to do it…)

    An answer to the question “Am I an Avocado?”… or am I more of a Banana? (They grow in southern California, but not up here, so they give a ‘couple of hundred mile’ indication on local climate zones. Yes, there is ONE non-fruiting decorative banana you can kind of grow up here, but that’s not the same ;-) If the Bacon Avocado survives, and I start pining for warm beaches… well, then I’m a banana and need to go consult the Sunset Garden Book again … or just move to Florida…)

  29. Jason Calley says:

    E.M., thanks for the great info on Bacon avocados. I will look for some trees! I may be a lacto-ovo vegetarian, but even I will eat some bacon if it is an avocado. :)

  30. BlueIce2HotSea says:

    Great post, E.M.

    You’re like a slot-machine that takes a person’s 2 cents and kicks out a jackpot.

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