Friday, 28 January 2011

Dealing with Denialists - Delingpole Part III

EDIT: Added a link to the paper "Are we feeling warmer yet?" 

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: Richard Treadgold has pointed out a mistake I've made below. I say that a  CSC paper critiques a methodology used by NIWA to adjust temperatures. This is not true. The CSC were not told of the adjustments when that paper was written. Subsequently they sought unsuccessfully to have those adjustments explained.

This post actually doesn't have anything to do with James Delingpole, but it completes a series of three posts on climate change "scepticism", better described as denialism. I wrote about James Delingpole's appearance on BBC's Horizon earlier in the week and last night I followed up on that with a debunking of some of the denialist evidence in which Delingpole has placed his faith. This post is about how one should deal with a denialist of Delingpole's ilk. A couple days ago I saw someone I follow on Twitter retweet an update from another Twitter user called @AGW_IS_A_HOAX, which was this:

"NZ #Climate Scientists Admit Faking Temperatures RT @admrich #AGW #Climategate #Cop16 #ClimateChange #GlobalWarming".

"Wow," I think. Scientists have actually admitted to faking temperatures. This I've gotta see. I mean, that's a big deal, right? I suspect it's probably BS, but what the hey. So I click on it. And this is how you deal with a denialist claim. You actually look into it. Here is the text of that article reproduced in full:

New Zealand Climate Scientists Admit To Faking Temperatures: The Actual Temps Show Little Warming Over Last 50 Years

Read here and here. Climate "scientists" across the world have been blatantly fabricating temperatures in hopes of convincing the public and politicians that modern global warming is unprecedented and accelerating.
The scientists doing the fabrication are usually employed by the government agencies or universities, which thrive and exist on taxpayer research dollars dedicated to global warming research. A classic example of this is the New Zealand climate agency, which is now admitting their scientists produced bogus "warming" temperatures for New Zealand.

"NIWA makes the huge admission that New Zealand has experienced hardly any warming during the last half-century. For all their talk about warming, for all their rushed invention of the “Eleven-Station Series” to prove warming, this new series shows that no warming has occurred here since about 1960. Almost all the warming took place from 1940-60, when the IPCC says that the effect of CO2 concentrations was trivial. Indeed, global temperatures were falling during that period.....Almost all of the 34 adjustments made by Dr Jim Salinger to the 7SS have been abandoned, along with his version of the comparative station methodology."
A collection of temperature-fabrication charts.
Okay, first off I don't know anything about anything mentioned in this article. Maybe some of the linked sources will fill me in. I check out the first link, the first "here" where the article says "Read here and here". I can see that there's been some sort of dispute between two New Zealand groups associated with climate change. One is New Zealand’s Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC) and the other is New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), but it doesn't tell me a whole lot more than I already got from the other article. I check the second source behind that article. The second article, I now realize, is published on the website of a person called Andrew Montford with whom I've been speaking recently and who is the author of a book titled The Hockey Stick Illusion. I would not label Andrew a denialist. He makes some good points and seems to be a decent guy and geniune sceptic (This is not to suggest all denialists are outwardly dishonest; however, they do tend to be hard to reason with). Again, this article doesn't give me anything that I haven't already seen, except a link to another background source. I go there.

From this piece written up on Scoop NZNEWSUK I discover that a coalition group consisting of the NZCSC and the Climate Conversation Group (CCG) has pressured the NIWA into abandoning a set of temperature record adjustments of which the coalition dispute the validity. This was the culmination of a court proceeding in December 2010, last month. In dispute were 34 adjustments that had been made by Dr Jim Salinger to the 7SS temperature series, though I don't know what that is exactly. I also discover that there is a guy called Richard Treadgold, Convenor of the CCG, who is quoted several times. Some of the statements he makes are quoted in the articles I've already seen. They are of a somewhat snide tenor. The CSC object to the methodology used by the NIWA to adjust temperature measurements (one developed as part of a PhD thesis), which they critique in a paper in November 2009 with the title "Are we feeling warmer yet?", and are concerned about how this public agency is spending its money. I'm going to have to dig a bit deeper if I want to find out more. There is a section with links under the heading "Related Stories on Scoop". I click on a few of those.

One of these leads me to more. Of particular interest is a fairly neutral article outlining the progress of the court action. I get some more background:
For the last ten years, visitors to NIWA’s official website have been greeted by a graph of the “seven-station series” (7SS), under the bold heading “New Zealand Temperature Record”. The graph covers the period from 1853 to the present, and is adorned by a prominent trend-line sloping sharply upwards. Accompanying text informs the world that “New Zealand has experienced a warming trend of approximately 0.9°C over the past 100 years.”
The 7SS has been updated and used in every monthly issue of NIWA’s “Climate Digest” since January 1993. Its 0.9°C (sometimes 1.0°C) of warming has appeared in the Australia/NZ Chapter of the IPCC’s 2001 and 2007 Assessment Reports. It has been offered as sworn evidence in countless tribunals and judicial enquiries, and provides the historical base for all of NIWA’s reports to both Central and Local Governments on climate science issues and future projections.
So now I can see why this is so important. The temperature record informs the conclusions of the IPCC assessment reports and provides crucial evidence for global warming. Further down we get:
NIWA announces that it has now completed a full internal examination of the Salinger adjustments in the 7SS, and has forwarded its “review papers” to its Australian counterpart, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for peer review.
So the old 7SS has already been repudiated. A replacement NZTR [New Zealand Temperature Record] is being prepared by NIWA – presumably the best effort they are capable of producing. NZCSC is about to receive what it asked for. On the face of it, there’s nothing much left for the Court to adjudicate.
Going back to the earlier Scoop article, I note that the CSC, in the person of Treadgold, are congratulating themselves over their vindication. NIWA has been forced to withdraw its earlier temperature record and replace it with a new one. Treadgold quite clearly states that "NIWA makes the huge admission that New Zealand has experienced hardly any warming during the last half-century" and that "the new temperature record shows no evidence of a connection with global warming." Earlier in the article he also stresses the role of the CSC in achieving these revisions, saying "after 12 months of futile attempts to persuade the public, misleading answers to questions in the Parliament from ACT and reluctant but gradual capitulation from NIWA, their relentless defence of the old temperature series has simply evaporated. They’ve finally given in, but without our efforts the faulty graph would still be there."

All this leads me to believe that if I look at the website of NIWA I will see a retraction of the earlier position and a new position that New Zealand has experienced no unusual warming. This is easy enough to check. I go there. Actually, I search for it to find the exact page. Here is the 7SS page on the NIWA site. Am I surprised that NIWA have retracted nothing and that in fact their revised graph shows similar results? Not really. However, I am somewhat surprised by this page on the Climate Conversation Group website which claims that the 7SS temperature record is as dead as the parrot in the Monty Python sketch. It says "On the eve of Christmas, when nobody was looking, NIWA declared that New Zealand had a new official temperature record (the NZT7) and whipped the 7SS off its website." However, I've already seen that this is not true. Perhaps there was once a 7SS graph and information about the temperature record on the site's homepage that can no longer be seen. I don't know. I can only speculate. I know that there is a section on the NIWA site about the 7SS temperature record that contains a number of graphs and figures and discusses recent revisions. It has been updated as recently as December 2010, last month. The NIWA page talks all about the 7SS series and has a heading that reads "Our new analysis confirms the warming trend".

The CCG page claims that the new NZT7 is not in fact a revision but rather a replacement. Although it results in a similar curve, the adjustments that were made are very different. Frankly I can't see how that matters at the end of the day. Now, I don't really know whether I can believe that the NIWA analysis is true, but what I am in no doubt of whatsoever is that the statements made by Richard Treadgold that were quoted in so many places are at best misleading. The NIWA has not changed its position in the slightest. The assertion that the NIWA have admitted that New Zealand has not warmed much since 1960 is a politician's careful argument. Both analyses showed the same result. This is a fact that NIWA have not disputed; however, they still maintain a connection to global warming. A document explaining the revisions talks about why the warming has slowed after 1960:
The unusually steep warming in the 1940-1960 period is paralleled by an unusually
large increase in northerly flow* during this same period. On a longer timeframe, there
has been a trend towards less northerly flow (more southerly) since about 1960.
However, New Zealand temperatures have continued to increase over this time, albeit
at a reduced rate compared with earlier in the 20th century. This is consistent with a
warming of the whole region of the southwest Pacific within which New Zealand is
Denialists have taken Treadgold's misleading mantra and spread it far and wide including on Twitter and fringe websites, but it is faulty as I've just demonstrated. Why do people do this? Perhaps they are hoping that others won't check the sources. Most people don't. I hope this serves as a lesson for why you always should.

*This refers to flucuations in the prevailing north-south air flow across New Zealand.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Scepticism versus Denialism - Delingpole Part II

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: I have corrected an erroneous statement about the makeup of IPCC Working Group II, left in with strikeouts. My apologies for this sloppy error.

Last night I wrote a piece about James Delingpole's unfortunate appearance on the BBC program Horizon on Monday. In that piece I refered to one of his own Telegraph articles in which he criticizes renowned sceptic Dr Ben Goldacre for betraying the principles of scepticism in his regard of the climate change debate. That article turns out to be rather instructional as it highlights perfectly the difference between real scepticism and the false scepticism commonly described as denialism. I don't know whether James is aware of the difference. Perhaps he hasn't taken a step back far enough to see the intellectual trap he has set for himself. I will endeavour to explain by using his own examples.

This Telegraph piece is by far the mildest of his that I've ever read. It appears that James has tremendous respect for Ben Goldacre, who is a qualified medical doctor and has written a best-selling book about science scepticism called Bad Science and continues to write a popular Guardian science column. Here's what Delingpole has to say about Dr Goldacre:
Many of Goldacre’s campaigns I support. I like and admire what he does. But where I don’t respect him one jot is in his views on ‘Climate Change,’ for they jar so very obviously with supposed stance of determined scepticism in the face of establishment lies.
Okay, first of all we need to examine the meaning of scepticism because it seems that Delingpole doesn't get it. Scepticism is not some sort of rebellion against the establishment as Delingpole claims. It is not in itself an ideology. It is merely an approach to evaluating new information. There are varying definitions of scepticism, but Goldacre's variety goes like this: A sceptic does not support or promote any new theory until it is proven to his or her satisfaction that the new theory is the best available. Evidence is examined and accepted or discarded depending on its persuasiveness and reliability. Sceptics like Ben Goldacre have a deep appreciation for the scientific method of testing a hypothesis through experimentation and are generally happy to change their minds when the evidence supports the opposing view. Sceptics are not true believers, but they search for the truth. Far from challenging the established scientific consensus, Goldacre in Bad Science typcially defends the scientific consensus against alternative medical views that fall back on untestable positions. In science the consensus is sometimes proven wrong, and while this process is imperfect it eventually results in the old consensus being replaced with a new one.

That's scepticism. So the question becomes "what is denialism?" Denialism is a mindset that chooses to deny reality in order to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Denialism creates a false sense of truth through the subjective selection of evidence (cherry picking). Unhelpful evidence is rejected and excuses are made, while supporting evidence is accepted uncritically - its meaning and importance exaggerated. It is a common feature of denialism to claim the existence of some sort of powerful conspiracy to suppress the truth. Rejection by the mainstream of some piece of evidence supporting the denialist view, no matter how flawed, is taken as further proof of the supposed conspiracy. In this way the denialist always has a fallback position.

In the next paragraph Delingpole makes the following claim:
Whether Goldacre chooses to ignore it or not, there are many, many hugely talented, intelligent men and women out there – from mining engineer turned Hockey-Stick-breaker Steve McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick to bloggers Donna LaFramboise and Jo Nova to physicist Richard Lindzen….and I really could go on and on – who have amassed a body of hugely powerful evidence to show that the AGW meme which has spread like a virus around the world these last 20 years is seriously flawed.
I'm glad Delingpole has done this because it gives me the opportunity to debunk. So he mentions a bunch of people who are intelligent and talented and have amassed evidence to the effect that the consensus of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) is a myth. Should I take his word for it? No. I am a sceptic. I will examine the evidence and the people behind it.

First there is McIntyre and McKitrick. These guys are heroes to the climate "sceptic" movement because they co-authored two papers that the denialists claim refute the consensus that average temperatures on earth have increased at an alarming rate during the last half of the 20th century. These two manuscripts were written in 2003 and 2004 and are both referred to as MM. The second of the two was submitted to and rejected by the journal Nature. Both make the same claim that the main feature of an earlier academic paper by Mann et al in 1998 (the "hockey stick" shape of the historical temperature record) is an artifact. MM claims that global temperatures are not accelerating. The claims have however been roundly disproved as explained here. It is worth noting at this point that neither man is a climate scientist. McKitrick is an economist and McIntyre is a mining industry policy analyst. It is clear from the very detailed rebuttal article that McIntrye and McKitrick have no qualifications to critique the earlier paper and betray fundamental misunderstandings of methodologies employed in that study. It should come as no surprise that the peer review process discredited them. This is not a global conspiracy. This is how science works. This Wikipedia article explains in better laymens terms how the MM claims are faulty. Here we can see lead author Michael Mann explain away the MM corrections:
" 'correction' was nothing more than a botched application of the MBH98 procedure, where the authors (MM) removed 80% of the proxy data actually used by MBH98 during the 15th century period... Indeed, the bizarre resulting claim by MM of anomalous 15th century warmth (which falls within the heart of the "Little Ice Age") is at odds with not only the MBH98 reconstruction, but, in fact the roughly dozen other estimates now published that agree with MBH98 within estimated uncertainties..."
It is difficult for me to find out much about blogger Donna LaFrambois. As far as I can see she runs her own blog at and is the founder of another site here It's not very clear to me what her credentials are or if she has any. If you search for her name you will see what I mean. She seems to be a critic of the so-called climate bible, a comprehensive report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) every five years or so. I am familiar with some of the criticisms of this panel. Working Group 2 famously overstated the estimated rate of disappearance of the Himalayan glacier in 2007 and was forced to admit the error. Working Group 2 is a panel of biologists and sociologists whose job is to evaluate the impact of climate change. These people are not climate scientists. The expertise on glaciers in the IPCC rests mostly within Working Group I (The Physical Basis), not Working Group II, which looks at the effects. Their report takes for granted the scientific basis of climate change, which has been delivered by Working Group I and is regarded as sound (of course this is just a conspiracy, right?) At any rate, I don't know why I should pay attention to this blogger. Anyone can write a blog and anyone with money can own a domain. She may be intelligent, but I don't know anything about her and with all the millions of blogs out there I'm not convinced hers is of any special significance. Oh she's also apparently writing a book called Decoding the Climate Bible: Almost Nothing You've Heard about the UN's Uber Report is True. Catchy. But I'm not buying it.

Jo Nova. Another blogger? I really can't be arsed. Sorry.

Richard Lindzen. Okay, there's information about this guy. He has a wiki page, which is more than I can say for the previous two. He is an atmospheric physicist and Professor of Meteorology at MIT. In 2007 he had this to say on Larry King Live:
"we're talking of a few tenths of a degree change in temperature. None of it in the last eight years, by the way. And if we had warming, it should be accomplished by less storminess. But because the temperature itself is so unspectacular, we have developed all sorts of fear of prospect scenarios -- of flooding, of plague, of increased storminess when the physics says we should see less.
I think it's mainly just like little kids locking themselves in dark closets to see how much they can scare each other and themselves."
According to Wikipedia, it would seem that Lindzen is well respected in his field and represents the 3% of the climate science community who disagree with the 97% consensus. Fair enough. Interestingly there are other climate scientists that Delingpole could have mentioned such as Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas. I'll let the link speak for itself as to why he probably left them out. The second to last paragraph of Delingpole's article asks this:
If  Goldacre really wants to stick his neck out, why doesn’t he try arguing against a rich, powerful, bullying Climate-Change establishment which includes all three British main political parties, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the President of the USA, the EU, the UN, most schools and universities, the BBC, most of the print media, the Australian Government, the New Zealand Government, CNBC, ABC, the New York Times, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, most of the rest of the City, the wind farm industry, all the Big Oil companies, any number of rich charitable foundations, the Church of England and so on?
I hope Ben won't mind if I take this one for him (first of all, Big Oil companies? Are you serious?) The answer is a question and the question is "Where is your evidence?"

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

James Delingpole and the "Science" of Denialism

UPDATE: Factual error corrected concerning the name of a journal author.

Perhaps like me, you watched the BBC Two Horizons program Monday night presented by Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society and Nobel Prize winning geneticist for his discovery of the genes of cell division. Perhaps like me you were particularly keen to see this program because it had been hyped that day as containing an interview with the bellicose Telegraph columnist James Delingpole where this fellow was purportedly made to look a bit stupid. I find it difficult to read Delingpole's writing. It's not that he's a particularly bad writer, it's just that he's so damn smug and full of himself (unlike me ;-). Check out his latest for a taste. That one is actually quite mild.

Delingpole has angered me with his vitriolic denunciations of peer reviewed science and stubborn denial of man-made climate change, and this has caused me to say some things about him from time to time that have been somewhat uncharitable. Perhaps this is because I always assumed he was a shill. Well I think I may owe Delingpole an apology. Having watched that Horizon program I am now convinced that he believes every word of it. And I now find that I feel a bit sorry for Delingpole, although he probably doesn't deserve it. Here's what happened. You can watch the video for yourself:

Poor James. He really believes there's some kind of mainstream science "warmist" conspiracy against the brave outliers who dare to challenge the consensus. He really believes that "climategate" is a real scandal. He fails to understand that it is a common practice in statistics to splice together two or more datasets where you know that the quality of data is patchy. In the case of "climategate", researchers found that indirect temperature measurements based on tree ring widths (the tree ring temperature proxy) is consistent with other proxy methods of recording temperature from before the start of the instrumental temperature record (around 1950) but begins to show a decline in temperature after that for reasons which are unclear. Actual temperature measurements however show the opposite. The researcher at the head of the climategate affair, Phil Jones, created a graph of the temperature record to include on the cover of a report for policy makers and journalists. For this graph he simply spliced together the tree ring proxy data up until 1950 with the recorded data after that using statistical techniques to bring them into agreement. What made this seem particularly dodgy was an email intercepted by a hacker in which Jones referred to this practice as a "Mike's Nature trick", referring to a paper published by his colleague Mike Hulme Michael Mann in the journal Nature. It is however nothing out of the ordinary. Delingpole and others have talked about how this "trick" was used here to "hide the decline" revealed by the other dataset, as though this was some sort of deception. The fact that all parties were found to have behaved ethically is simply further evidence of the global warmist conspiracy. Delingpole takes it further and casts aspersions on scientific consensus and the entire peer review process.

Poor James. I'm struck by one thought as I watch that video, and it's this. He could have recovered. When Nurse asked Delingpole the very straightforward question of whether he would be willing to trust a scientific consensus if he required treatment for cancer, he could have said "Gee, that's an interesting question. Let me think about that and why it's different." If he had an ounce of humility he could have saved himself. Instead, he became defensive and lost his focus. Eventually he would make such regrettable statements as this one: "It is not my job to sit down and read peer-reviewed papers because I simply haven’t got the time, I haven’t got the scientific expertise… I am an interpreter of interpretation." Oh dear. Would he trust a scientific consensus if his life depended on it? He evidently wasn't prepared for that question, which does seem a bit strange. I'll bet he's thought of at least a dozen answers to it now. In case he needs one more, here it is. In a parallel universe where James Delingpole is not the "penis" that Ben Goldacre describes him to be, he might have said the following:
Gee, that's an interesting question. Let me think about why it's different. (Thinks) Well, it seems to me that when evaluating a scientifically agreed treatment for a disease such as cancer, we have not only all the theory to peruse and the randomized and blinded trials, but also thousands if not millions of case studies where people have undergone the intervention. We have enough data to estimate a person's chances of recovery and know that on average they will do better. When discussing climate change, we really only have the one case study. Just the one earth. And it's a patient that has not undergone any intervention. The scientific consensus is therfore entirely theoretical and intangible. This makes it more difficult for the lay person such as myself to trust it.
It seems to me that this would be a fair, if somewhat misguided, answer to the question. And that brings me to the final point, upon which Sir Paul ended the program saying "Scientists have got to get out there… if we do not do that it will be filled by others who don’t understand the science, and who may be driven by politics and ideology."

More on that here:

Friday, 7 January 2011

How to get files off an unfinalized DVD-Video disk using free software

Hey, happy new year! This is a bit of a techie experience transfer. I don't always write blog posts of a political nature. Actually, I don't often write blog posts, but here's one. I wanted to share with you my experiences of trying to extract content from an unfinalized video DVD that was recorded with a consumer DVD recorder (brand unknown, not in my possession). A friend was kind enough to send us by post some DVDs with material recorded off the television. [Now before you get all sanctimonious with me about copyright and IP and all that jazz, let me say that I fully intend to buy the DVD of this series when it is available. It is not currently available. I could get this series on my own Virgin Media TV package if I upgrade, but I don't want to commit to another fixed term contract. And I'm not going to tell you the name of the show, so nyuh.*] Anyway, our kind friend sent us these DVDs but unfortunately they were not finalized, which means they can only be played in the same video recorder. This is an easy mistake to make. Although this friend claims that the DVDs were finalized, she has been misinformed as I shall show you below. So for the last couple days I set about trying to create workable DVD disks from the contents of the ones I was given. This is tricky, since an unfinalized DVD video disk is left in a state where it is virtually unreadable without specialist software. Such a DVD will not load in a commercial DVD deck, nor will it mount on any operating system. I tried Windows 7, Mac OSX 1.4 and CentOS Linux. Trawling the various video forums, I came across a couple helpful articles:

When I'd first discovered the problems with these disks I was at home and using Windows; therefore, I was inclined to try Windows oriented solutions first. On my Windows 7 laptop, the DVD disks when inserted appear as full but blank. There is no discernable file system, and out of all my DVD related tools only Nero could detect that there was a session with tracks on the disk. It could not do anything with the disk though. I don't have the full commercial version of Nero. I tried the free tool DVD Decrypter, which is recommended for ripping from DVD file systems, but it detected nothing. The excellent ShareWare tool IsoBuster is able to detect and recover files from these DVDs, but in order to extract the files you need to shell out $30 for a license to unlock the Pro features. I considered this a small price to pay and so I did, though I now know that this was not necessary. If you don't fancy mucking around with command line tools then go with IsoBuster, but make sure it can detect your tracks before you pay for it. The more adventurous might continue reading, after all I told you this can be done at no cost.

Linux is a powerful open source operating system whose many distributions offer packages of free software applications, many of which are as fully featured as competing commercial software available for closed source operating systems. And the maintainers of many of these tools also provide binary ports that run on Windows or MacOSX. On my CentOS 5.4 Linux desktop computer at work, I have the dvd+rw-tools package installed. This is also available as a binary port for Windows. This provides among other things a neat little utility that gives the structure of a DVD disk, even one that can't be mounted in the usual ways. With a disk in the drive and assuming a DVD device of /dev/dvd, I type 'dvd+rw-mediainfo /dev/dvd' and hit Return:
% dvd+rw-mediainfo /dev/dvd
INQUIRY:                [PHILIPS ][DVD+-RW DVD8801 ][4D28]
 Mounted Media:         11h, DVD-R Sequential
 Current Write Speed:   16.0x1385=22160KB/s
 Write Speed #0:        16.0x1385=22160KB/s
 Write Speed #1:        12.0x1385=16620KB/s
 Write Speed #2:        8.0x1385=11080KB/s
 Write Speed #3:        4.0x1385=5540KB/s
 Write Performance:     16.0x1385=22160KB/s@[0 -> 1845983]
 Speed Descriptor#0:    00/1845983 R@6.7x1385=9276KB/s W@16.0x1385=22160KB/s
 Speed Descriptor#1:    00/1845983 R@6.7x1385=9276KB/s W@12.0x1385=16620KB/s
 Speed Descriptor#2:    00/1845983 R@6.7x1385=9276KB/s W@8.0x1385=11080KB/s
 Speed Descriptor#3:    00/1845983 R@6.7x1385=9276KB/s W@4.0x1385=5540KB/s
 Media Book Type:       00h, DVD-ROM book [revision 0]
 Legacy lead-out at:    2298496*2KB=4707319808
 Media Book Type:       25h, DVD-R book [revision 5]
 Last border-out at:    2045*2KB=4188160
 Disc status:           appendable
 Number of Sessions:    1
 State of Last Session: incomplete
 "Next" Track:          1
 Number of Tracks:      8
 Track State:           reserved incremental
 Track Start Address:   0*2KB
 Next Writable Address: 0*2KB
 Free Blocks:           12272*2KB
 Track Size:            12272*2KB
 Track State:           complete incremental
 Track Start Address:   12288*2KB
 Free Blocks:           0*2KB
 Track Size:            192*2KB
 Last Recorded Address: 12479*2KB
 Track State:           complete incremental
 Track Start Address:   12496*2KB
 Free Blocks:           0*2KB
 Track Size:            887216*2KB
 Last Recorded Address: 899711*2KB
 Track State:           complete incremental
 Track Start Address:   899728*2KB
 Free Blocks:           0*2KB
 Track Size:            16*2KB
 Last Recorded Address: 899743*2KB
 Track State:           complete incremental
 Track Start Address:   899760*2KB
 Free Blocks:           0*2KB
 Track Size:            192*2KB
 Last Recorded Address: 899951*2KB
 Track State:           complete incremental
 Track Start Address:   899968*2KB
 Free Blocks:           0*2KB
 Track Size:            945984*2KB
 Last Recorded Address: 1845951*2KB
 Track State:           complete incremental
 Track Start Address:   1845968*2KB
 Free Blocks:           0*2KB
 Track Size:            16*2KB
 Last Recorded Address: 1845983*2KB
 Track State:           invisible incremental
 Track Start Address:   1846000*2KB
 Next Writable Address: 1846000*2KB
 Free Blocks:           451888*2KB
 Track Size:            451888*2KB
READ CAPACITY:          0*2048=0

We can see that there are 8 tracks on this DVD in a single session, though the last track has not been started. The first track is reserved and the middle six are complete. Under the heading READ DISK INFORMATION, we also see why this disk fails to mount. The disk has an 'appendable' status and its single session is in an 'incomplete' state. It is not finalized. Generally a recordable DVD can only be played or finalized using the software that created it because this is the only software that can locate the files without the support data created during finalization. I've read that it is sometimes possible to create a clone image of an unfinalized DVD and use other software to close the session, but I have never tried this. The important thing is to get the VOB files off the DVD disk. If you can do this then you can reauthor a new DVD. The output of dvd+rw-mediainfo above shows that there are likely two VOB tracks (#3 and #6). These two tracks are each about 2 Gigs long. The other tracks are very short, suggesting they probably contain menu or other setup files. The field "Track Size" is shown with the number of blocks and the size of each block separated by an asterisk. Track #6 is 945984*2KB = 1891968 KB = 1847.628 MB = 1.804 GB roughly.

Now for the fun part. The dvd+rw-mediainfo output actually tells us everything we need to know in order to extract the VOB files using a tool such as "dd" (a GNU command line utility for copying parts of files and block devices). dd is also available for Windows, but I don't have a link at the moment[This excellent tool is available here]. In order to extract a VOB from our DVD we only need to know its starting block and its size. For track #6, the starting block is 899968 and its size is once again 945984 blocks. Block size is 2KB. The command to extract the track would be written as follows (note: 2KB = 2*1024 bytes):

dd bs=2048 skip=899968 count=945984 if=/dev/dvd of=/tmp/track6.vob

The 'bs' option specifies the block size, skip specifies the number of input blocks to skip and count specifies the block length to copy. 'if' is input file and 'of' is output file, which can be any writable path. Here's what I get when I run the command (it takes a few minutes to complete):
% dd bs=2048 skip=899968 count=945984 if=/dev/dvd of=/tmp/track6.vob
945984+0 records in
945984+0 records out
1937375232 bytes (1.9 GB) copied, 903.739 seconds, 2.1 MB/s

And the delight of the day is that if I open that file in VLC media player, it plays perfectly! I can now add that file (and track 3 once extracted) to a new DVD project in a DVD authoring application (such as the free cross-platform DVDStyler) and burn a DVD. The DVD authoring software is needed in order to create DVD menus. Although in theory it should be possible to extract menu files from the original DVD in the same way, I have not tried this. I have viewed extracted files and they are in a binary file format. Anyway, the menus created by your standard DVD recorder are nothing special. Might as well make new ones.

The first DVD I created was not done using the dd tool. Instead it was done using IsoBuster's extraction feature. Had I known what I was doing I could have selected the tracks to export and created raw export image files that I could rename as .vob files. I did not know what I was doing so I asked IsoBuster to find and recover missing files based on signatures. It found some IFO files and two groups of three VOB files. It was easy for me to see that each set of three VOB files was a single episode split into three parts. Unfortunately I struggled for a long time with an error in my DVD authoring software after trying to import the VOB files as separate files. VOB files are multiplexed video and audio and contain crucial timing information. A split VOB file cannot be imported into DVDStyler (if indeed any authoring software) and so it was necessary for me to recombine the VOBs which is a simple matter of concatenating them. The end result was a working DVD video disk with two menus and two titles (which I'm not about to show you   ;-)  I hope this has been useful.

*UPDATE 29th September 2011: We now own a properly licensed commercial DVD copy of this television series.

*UPDATE 25th May 2013:
Some commenters have pointed to difficulties using the Windows port of dd. This has almost invariably been due to incorrect specification of the input file parameter. Regardless of operating system the source disk partition needs to be addressed as a block device. Different operating systems will do this differently. On Windows the disk device nodes are rarely seen. However, using the free dd port written by John Newbigin, we can easily find out how to address our drives in Windows. Here's an extract from my laptop running Windows 7:

C:\[some path]>dd --list
rawwrite dd for windows version 0.6beta3.
Written by John Newbigin 
This program is covered by terms of the GPL Version 2.

Win32 Available Volume Information
  link to \\?\Device\HarddiskVolume3
  fixed media
  Not mounted

  link to \\?\Device\HarddiskVolume1
  fixed media
  Mounted on \\.\c:

  link to \\?\Device\HarddiskVolume2
  fixed media
  Mounted on \\.\d:

  link to \\?\Device\CdRom0
  Mounted on \\.\e:

Here we can see that there are two ways to address the optical device, which are '\\?\Device\CdRom0' or '\\.\e:'. I prefer the latter style. I've used this and can confirm that it works as expected.

Flayman on LiveJournal (old)