“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Yet Archilochus didn’t mention the elephant. What’s the point of knowing many things if you can’t remember them?

Elephant Man

Two days ago I remembered one big thing: that today was going to be the ten year anniversary of my blog post four numbers that tell a story. It’s free to read even now, albeit on GitHub Pages, not the original defunct blog platform I chose, then regretted choosing. There’s no way to add comments but it’s there. And it marked the moment where I became a hedgehog about the infantile debates we sceptics were having to endure about the ‘climate crisis’.

Here’s the graph that matters, as of December 2011.

And here’s an update with some smoothing, courtesy of Bjorn Lomborg, that I used in January 2021:

Here’s my view at the end of 2021. If someone doesn’t at once realise that the climate crisis is a fantasy on viewing this graph then it’s not worth arguing further with them.

Search for @rdrake98 deaths extreme events on Twitter to see me banging on about this point, when I was still willing to add to the Twitter network effect. (That ended on the day of my tweet above. No going back.)

Displacement Activity

Here’s Christopher Booker writing in the Daily Telegraph at the end of December 2008:

As 2009 dawns, it is time we in Britain faced up to the genuine crisis now fast approaching from the fact that – unless we get on very soon with building enough proper power stations to fill our looming “energy gap” – within a few years our lights will go out and what remains of our economy will judder to a halt. After years of infantile displacement activity, it is high time our politicians – along with those of the EU and President Obama’s US – were brought back with a mighty jolt into contact with the real world.

And here’s Bryan Appleyard writing about outstanding climate sceptic Clive James and his recently published book Cultural Amnesia, in or before February 2009. (The web page has long since disappeared and for some reason wasn’t archived by Wayback Machine but I have a local copy of an excerpt.)

The problem is, he thinks, that the horrors of the 20th century were such that they have become all but impossible to contemplate. “There is this wilful ignorance about the import of the recent past. I did an essay on Isaiah Berlin, saying that not even he could face the facts about The Holocaust. There’s a displacement activity that shifts your capacity away from the horrific and incomprehensible to something more comprehensible.”

Note the irony of James mentioning Berlin, given our first sentence. But the imaginary climate crisis and all that is said to follow from it is for me the ultimate displacement activity that allows shallow people not to face up to humanity’s much deeper problems.

Nitpicking

The fall of Kabul this year really got to me. I was already thinking of the suffering of various poverty-striken and war-torn landlocked countries as I took a gap from Cliscep. This was after falling out with Jaime Jessop about her use of Nazi analogies to do with Covid. There was nothing to be self-righteous about, I felt. Where is that kind of suffering today? How can I even begin to think about helping?

(I was also engaged at this time to tutor a teenager in coding in Python. She was attending a school in London but I knew her family was from Kazakhstan. It turned out when we set up the Zoom sessions that she wasn’t in London, as I had thought, but Almaty. The technology worked that well! That also led me to learn, as a rookie fox, despite my hedgehog tendencies, that Kazakhstan was the biggest landlocked country of them all, by area. And of the others in the top ten. See the graphic at the top of the post.)

It was in that context of the humanitarian disaster that had befallen Afghanistan, and that context alone, that I referred to some of our concerns as climate sceptics as nitpicking in August. All respect to those that have paid the reputational price for this genuine concern for truth. And a very happy new year to all.

34 Comments

  1. Richard,

    If the covid pandemic has taught us anything it is how to count the dead. What you should be counting are those who have died with climate. Then a very different picture emerges.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The fox and hedgehog story is closely linked to the dichotomy seen by some people between splitters and lumpers – those that emphasise differences and others that essentially stress similarities. Have discovered yet another test of incipient senility – when you can no longer identify into which grouping you reside.

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  3. Alan, you and I can both take comfort from Isaiah Berlin’s preamble:

    Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog’s one defense.

    Berlin will have picked up the phrase from Erasmus of Rotterdam’s monumental compendium of ancient proverbs, the Adagia. So this whole thing could be the ‘blind leading the blind’. I say let’s try and sort it out ‘one step at a time’.

    (And that last is key to the agile software ideas I was using as an analogy in my blog post ten years ago. There are further puzzles and ironies in all that, I can tell you.)

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  4. Richard, regarding your reference to the fall of Kabul, I can’t help feeling that the United Nations long since lost the plot. It’s overwhelming obsession with climate change (a subject where it can and does achieve nothing) has prevented it from taking effective action in areas where it could, conceivably, make a difference. IMO the bloated UN bureaucracy should take a long hard look in the mirror and ask itself why it exists, what it’s purpose is, and what it achieves. Everyone who goes to work should ask themselves each day not “how hard did I work today?”, but “what did I achieve today?”. I suspect that many people return home from work tired and well satisfied that they have put in a hard shift, but the truth is that they achieved nothing of any use, and nobody would notice if they hadn’t bothered. I suspect further that this could be said of many of the climate-obsessed at the UN and elsewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Mark, I think the veto makes the UN a pointless organisation as world policeman. On the other hand without the veto the Western powers would be outvoted and then we’d have the risk of resolutions passing that would have very serious consequences for us.

    Richard, the mention of Berlin made me remember that I had lately been reading about someone else who was a refugee from St Petersburg in 1917. It took me a while to remember who. There are actually quite a few to choose from, so I will leave the reader to guess who I was thinking of.

    Something else that seems to be cropping up quite a bit at the moment is the “Clash of Civilizations” by SP Huntington. Not something I have read nor a concept I have thought about (hewing instinctively to the nationalist framework). I wonder if the degree of action on climate change maps onto Huntington’s civilisations?

    As you point out, the data shows that climate change is not able to dent our present civilisation. Maybe it will have more potency over time as we enervate ourselves.

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  6. Jit, I read that work many years ago. Regarding the climate change domain, Huntington could be said to have predicted correctly in that his theory said that future conflicts would in essence be primarily about cultural identity, and per the charts I have put up here on occasion, this is clearly the case regarding the attitudes of national publics to CC. But it isn’t simply a case of bulk for, or against, climate ideals / policy. While attitudes indeed reflect cultural identity, they are radically different across nations dependent on reality-consttained or unconstrained scenarios, which is generally the case for cultural mechanics.

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  7. As far as I recall, he was off to the extent of what he thought would form cultural identity (so belief in climate catastrophe is for example a part of cultural identity in its own right), albeit right on regarding the religious component, which again per prior charts forms a fantastic lens on national attitudes to climate change.

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  8. If we assume, not unreasonably, that the climate has ben stationary for the period 1920 to 2020 then the remarkable decline in climate related deaths must be due to adaptation driven by increased wealth. This is surely cause for celebration as it indicates that we will have the resources and initiative to adapt to any future changes. Mind you most of the problems we have today with “climate catastrophes” in the current climate are due to lack of investment and regulation. For example continuing building in floodplains and forest fire interface areas.

    The Tri-State tornado of 1925 killed nearly 750 people. A similar sized tornado in December 2021 killed 90 people and the reduction in deaths is likely a result of wealthier communities adapting by installing warning systems and tornado shelters.

    Those on the “front-line” of the climate crisis are the very poor who build houses on sand bars and really have no option to adapt even for the current climate. However they are useful for the Guardian to bang on about.

    https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2021/dec/29/our-house-was-gone-it-was-sea-and-sand-life-on-the-vanishing-coasts-in-pictures

    They even refer to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and note:

    “The tsunami also devastated livelihoods: boats were destroyed, leaving people unable to fish, one of the main sources of income in the region. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), a lack of legislation on climate change and effective policies on land use, disaster risk management and fisheries “allows unsustainable and high-risk practices, such as construction in areas prone to coastal erosion, to continue unchecked”.

    I can’t imagine how legislation on climate change in Somalia would help but “construction in areas prone to coastal erosion” pretty much nails the problem.

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  9. Jit:

    As you point out, the data shows that climate change is not able to dent our present civilisation. Maybe it will have more potency over time as we enervate ourselves.

    Two very brief points on this. ‘Our present civilisation’ I would have to take as global, because the extreme event data is global. Bangladesh is part, for example – one of those countries now far better protected than it once was from typhoons etc. There is so much to rejoice in here. It’s not completely across the board – many landlocked countries still have terrible problems, as Paul Collier pointed out in The Bottom Billion way back. But it’s stuff like civil war, child soldiers and appalling torture. The stuff we don’t want to talk about, because it’s so difficult to put the pieces of broken human beings back together again. Still, Freddy Mutanguha is a massive inspiration on that.

    What he went through in the Rwandan Genocide was as bad as one feels it can get without dying oneself but he has an amazing, giving and forgiving spirit. Perhaps my biggest inspiration on live video as I followed my nose during my ‘gap’ from Cliscep.

    Where was I?

    “Maybe it will have more potency over time as we enervate ourselves.”

    Not a self-fulfilling prophecy then but a nihilistic programme. No thanks.

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  10. Lots I could respond to here but I want to start with the Archbishop of Canterbury 😉

    (Though h/t as so often to Mark Hodgson on Open Mic yesterday.)

    The Guardian summarises as follows:

    ‘Real reasons to hope’ on climate action, says archbishop of Canterbury
    Justin Welby uses his new year message to urge people not to despair over the climate crisis

    Well, I would totally agree that nobody should despair about the climate crisis.

    I would add that the same applies to the smallpox crisis.

    Because smallpox was also a real threat in 1920.

    (The Church of England only being a hundred years behind the relevant data is pretty good.)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Andy, I had in mind actual measured actions rather than cultural centres of mass: would it be possible to predict say the changes in CO2 emissions from 1996 to 2021 solely based on the buckets that Huntington put different countries in?

    Of course the culture determines the action to some extent (some changes would be endogenous based on development stage).
    [Edit: image didn’t appear. Will it now?]

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  12. “Andy, I had in mind actual measured actions rather than cultural centres of mass: would it be possible to predict say the changes in CO2 emissions from 1996 to 2021 solely based on the buckets that Huntington put different countries in?”

    I think not, for several reasons. 1) Huntingdon made the assumption that cultural identities would largely align with these (older) buckets regarding any new challenges that come along. But cultures form different alliances or oppositions depending on the nature of the challenge, and 2) the boundaries of those buckets are constantly evolving even without new challenges, and 3) newer components of cultural identities not even on this map could form part of a challenge to existing cultural entities: (For instance extreme trans-rights values, so-called anti-racist values based on CRT, and climate catastrophist values, are all expressions of cultural identities not yet obvious or at least well-developed back in 1996. The latter is now huge and global, the former are largely still trapped as sub-cultures within the West to date).

    Plus, even as a percentage and per-capita, change in CO2 emissions is likely to be a very poor proxy for cultural response, because there’s just so many different elements that make it up (plus and minus, and dependent on history too) that in turn have many real-world constraints which limit cultural action (and also hard to measure some aspects, such as the export of emissions elsewhere).

    However, we can perform the kind of measured actions I think you have in mind. For instance, the commitment to renewables (Solar and Wind) per nation, which is a very good real-world proxy for cultural action, and observe which buckets express more or less such commitment. And it turns out that national commitment is strongly negatively correlated with national religiosity. For a full explanation, see: https://judithcurry.com/2020/11/19/cultural-motivations-for-wind-and-solar-renewables-deployment/

    However, in the main this is because there is a new cultural identity in operation that is not on Huntingdon’s map and sprawls across all his colours, which is climate catastrophist culture (so, not merely cultural by virtue of say support by tribal politics, but cultural *in its own right*). And rather than reacting to this new culture in accordance with Huntingdon’s buckets, *all* the old cultural entities of main Faiths react to it in an identical manner, because they have no history or particular connection with this brand-new culture and have not developed differences dependent upon each Faith type. I don’t think this is something he envisaged could happen. So whether light blue, dark blue, green or orange or whatever on Huntingdon’s map, low religiosity nations have a high commitment to wind and solar deployment, and high religiosity nations have a low commitment to wind and solar deployment. This deployment is measured as GDP-per-capita normalised Wind + Solar power, with the Solar also normalised for sunshine hours per nation. Nothing else matters to predict national renewables commitment to the first order: not politics or even the political systems it occurs within, not climate science or technical issues, not economic levels or even the national economic system type, not the main national Faith type, not the climate or climate exposure of nations, not even reason or logic. Only national religiosity (which is a wholly cultural phenomenon).

    Note: Because some nations have single-party states that suppress religion, this screws the effect, and no accurate figures for religiosity can be obtained from such nations anyhow. So this excepts China, Vietnam, and North Korea from the rule. The US is different too; in this case the same cultural rules hold there, but 4 cultures matter in the US (rep/con, dem/lib, religion, and climate catastrophism), making the interaction more complex, whereas only the latter two matter everywhere else. The rule holds across several dozen nations that have the most Solar / Wind deployed.

    So this is what I meant by Huntingdon as applied to climate-change, is both right and wrong. Real world measurements such as renewables commitment (and the levels of climate activism too, such as XR or Children’s Strike groups per nation) *do* depend on cultural identity. But *not* the older cultural identity buckets that Huntingdon envisaged, albeit these may still be the most relevant ones to use regarding some other topic domain.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. If someone doesn’t at once realise that the climate crisis is a fantasy on viewing this graph then it’s not worth arguing further with them.

    Agreed. And the same goes for similar graphs showing a century of floods, forest fires etc. Has anyone tried using this in a discussion? e.g. by slipping into a discussion of horrid wildfires floods etc. “Well, according to the International Disaster Database, deaths from [whatever’s being discussed] are down 95% from a century ago.”

    I confess I haven’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Geoff, I’ve seen the likes of John Pielke Jr and Bjorn Lomberg occasionally make this argument on Twitter, sometimes with the very same chart on the reduction of climate deaths (or one that is incredibly similar). Generally, there aren’t many climate apocalypse believers who follow them (as the culture has stigmatized them as bad sources), so there aren’t going to be many answers of any type from such people. So, walls of bubbles problem. And as far as I recall, those that occur either ignore the argument totally and put up a (usually unrelated) argument of their own about some angle of climate doom, or if remaining somewhat related, emphasize future deaths. But generally, there aren’t any credible challenges that I’ve seen (albeit I’ve only scanned responses briefly). It may indeed not be worth arguing with folks who don’t at least engage with this data, but (along with similar data on wildfires or whatever, which is also widely used by these same guys and others) this won’t make any difference to the conflict. The culture is perfectly capable of suppressing such data by various means, including bubble and stigmatization as noted above, and has done for decades. So it’ll make little difference. Probably worth continuing to chip away, but the whole point is that the climate apocalypse is indeed a (cultural) fantasy, and always has been, so one cannot expect logical arguments of any kind to necessarily make a dint.

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  15. Andy,

    ‘Emphasise future deaths’.

    Unfortunately, it is only future deaths that scare people. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. John: Yet PhilipTetlock finds experts, especially hedgehogs aka obsessed-by-one-cause neurotics – to be useless in forecasting the future and simple extrapolation of the past does much better.

    Geoff/Andy: This Twitter response of mine in 2019 got nothing, as usual, but it’s now interesting to me in other ways

    Partly because of the job Jason does and who he does it for. I aim to explain. But my lateral flow test said I had Omicron this morning. (Strictly speaking a LFT can’t tell you which strain but this is all about interpretation!) I was already feeling bad from Sunday. Bye bye eye op, hello typing this from bed. Will come back to it. But the key word is metric, in the Tom Gilb sense.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. ANDY
    I was thinking more about the pub or dinner table discussion. I hardly ever mention climate in social settings (though it comes up often enough in a casual way – “terrible those floods, wildfires” etc.)

    I’m mindful of alarmist psychologist George Marshall’s rueful claim that he could kill any conversation dead by mentioning climate, and I don’t want to repeat his mistake. But the “95% less deaths” argument is so unanswerable, and so much easier to get into one sentence than anything about global temperature anomalies, that I mean to use it. First I need to memorise the name of the source, together with their URL and a full history of their funding and the voting habits of their members of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Richard,

    It depends what country you are talking about. What is it they say about Russia? It’s the only country with an unpredictable past. So in Russia, not even linear extrapolation works.

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  19. Geoff: ‘But the “95% less deaths” argument is so unanswerable, and so much easier to get into one sentence than anything about global temperature anomalies, that I mean to use it.’

    Good luck. My expectation is that, in the main, people will suspect that you are the crazy conspiracy uncle, that the source is tainted, and they won’t follow-up to verify the source you give them for fear of being tainted too.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Richard, what remarkable prescience on your part. How did you know it was about to kick off in Kazakhstan?

    Even the BBC is reporting on it:

    “Kazakhstan unrest: Staff flee as protesters enter airport”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-59880166

    “Other attempts to end the protests, which began on Sunday when the government lifted the price cap on liquefied petroleum gas which many people use to power their cars, causing it to double in cost, have been made.”

    The BBC might well be right in saying the protests are about much more than the cost of fuel, but it’s often (as with les gilets jaunes) the price of fuel that kicks things off. When will those in charge of the green agenda, net zero etc, learn that while they might be able to afford expensive energy, many (most?) people can’t, and when you make it difficult for them to travel, when you make it expensive for them to heat their homes, then you’ll lose them.

    In the UK, Boris’ apparent intransigence on this issue is likely, IMO, to see him kicked out of office before too long by the Men in Grey Suits (unless, as so often, he does a volte face).

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  21. Mark, but almost all of the Men in Grey Suits and inside whatever party or the civil service or even in business, think that we have to do it sooner or later, or fry.

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  22. Andy: Thanks for seeking to take control of the narrative of this thread and, on every occasion you do, saying almost the opposite of what I would. I assume you didn’t think there was anything valuable or original in what I have written – in which case, the feeling is mutual. Perhaps now you’d like to fill the readers in with what I was going to say to Mark about Michael Shellenberger’s views on energy needs and landlocked countries in response to what I thought was an excellent comment from Mark?

    Many of ‘the men in grey suits’ are only paying lip-service to the net-zero agenda. We know there’s resistance in the Tories especially. Perhaps you could do a poll to find out the intersection of each person’s current worldview beliefs that will enable you to extrapolate with great confidence everything that is bound to happen for the rest of our lifetimes? Or perhaps pour a little less cold water (as you did notably with Geoff) on what could otherwise be a fruitful and free-flowing discussion.

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  23. “Thanks for seeking to take control of the narrative of this thread and, on every occasion you do, saying almost the opposite of what I would…”

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. How could I possibly know ahead of time what you are going to say? Plus, why on Earth do you think any of my comments have some mysterious ‘control’ factor?

    And it’s a blog, not a white paper. Yes, the last 1-liner is somewhat casual and a little OTT, there is indeed some resistance. But then again, genuine belief in catastrophic climate-change among the elite as named and more is, in the main, far more than lip-service.

    Nor am I saying anything about ‘all the rest of our lifetimes’, with or without confidence. I’ve no idea how it will play out in the longer term; I doubt that anyone on the planet does. Nevertheless, my comment was a pessimistic one. In a free and flowing discussion, that occasionally happens. Just as optimistic comments likewise may. Neither are typically backed by knowledge of the future. Your view about what a free and flowing discussion should be, appears not only to exclude comment which may owe something to mood music, but that which you disagree with too. Why not say: “Don’t be so pessimistic, what about x,y and z?” Maybe I’ll say: “Hopefully, but I think z is a false hope, because w”. Or just: “Hopefully”. Whatever. If I say something that has some backup behind it, that owes to data not just raw opinion, I usually point to this backup. I know next to bugger all about politics but I’m allowed my opinion like everyone else, pessimistic or optimistic or whatever, and completely unbacked. Why is my opinion sampled at 9.09pm today not apparently part of a free and flowing discussion? Am I only allowed ‘warm’ comments? Who decides what’s ‘warm’?

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  24. On the theme of displacement activity, Chamath Palihapitiya is billionaire chairman of Social Capital, which is dedicated to “solving the world’s hardest problems.”

    The hardest problems? Really?

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  25. Mmm, Seems to me that most of the world’s problems stem from people insisting that they have answers to the world’s problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I know what you mean Bill. But the “looking under the lamppost where it’s brightest” syndrome, when you lost your keys somewhere else, also applies. Palihapitiya and others don’t want to think about the really hard problems. Their religion is in their ability to find solutions but it’s empty, just as the climateers are when they ignore the good advice of the likes of Bjorn Lomborg, Roger Pielke and Michael Shellenberger.

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  27. I could add this to Jit’s Drowning by Numbers thread but I’ve gone way off topic there.

    Doom for a sense of purpose is right. And what’s the antidote?

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  28. As we’re thinking about fear more generally, here’s more ‘unhealthy emotional dependency on doom for a sense of purpose’ leading to anger at the fear being snatched away by mere facts.

    The Sendai Framework indicators are a group of three metrics on extreme events – just a bit more sophisticated than Number 1 that I’ve used above. I continue to think human deaths, scaled by population, is central. But here’s Roger explaining the same good news with a tad more sophistication. Causing the boiling anger!

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  29. I only just spotted that Freeman Dyson used the fox-hedgehog distinction in discussing physicists. Dyson himself being a fox and his friend Richard Feynman being a hedgehog – and thus able to go much deeper. But too many hedgehogs in physics also have downsides, as he cheekily describes, to the reputational detriment of Einstein, Bohr and others, here:

    After dealing with that he is asked about his advice to Francis Crick in 1945 not to go into biology. Another Dyson classic.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. H/t to Jit in Open Mic two days ago for pointing to Spiked’s commentary on Justin Rowlatt being found guilty, by the BBC complaints unit, of not having taken in this Cliscep post of 31st December – and the news for ten years before that:

    11 May The BBC’s climate fake news

    For the full story of the complaints being upheld see Paul Homewood and the Daily Mail:

    10 May BBC climate editor made false claims on global warming–Mail
    10 May BBC climate editor whose sister is an Insulate Britain fanatic made false claims on global warming including worldwide deaths are rising and Madagascar is on the verge of famine, inquiry finds (Any headline that long has to be the Mail!)
    28 April Two Complaints Upheld Against Justin Rowlatt

    Well done Paul and the other unnamed complainant. I’d like to comment on the Spiked piece in particular, as it frames the situation with the hot topics de jour: fact-checking, disinformation and their misuses. In the context of the biggest climate fact of them all, in my humble and never over-simplified opinion. I’ll be back for that. After the Ukraine fact-checking thingie.

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  31. I believe the other unnamed complainant was Joe Public, occasionally of this parish. Well done Joe.

    Liked by 1 person

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